An investigation by the former Lord Chief Justice into links between the London School of Economics and Political Science and deposed Libyan dictator Muammar el Qaddafi regime has reached "damning" conclusions.
The highly critical investigation, carried out by Woolf, was ordered in March after attention fell on multiple links between the school and the Libyan dictatorship following the killing of hundreds of protesters in the early stages of the uprising in the Middle Eastern state. The report was due to be released after Times Higher Education had gone to press, but it is understood to conclude that:
- Failures of governance, management and communication meant that members of the LSE council were not fully informed of fears that a l £1.5 million donation from the Qaddafi regime could have been funded by bribes from Western companies seeking Libyan contracts.
- Howard Davies, the former director of the school who resigned at the height of the scandal in March, was ultimately responsible for this failure to fully inform the council.
- There was no one at the LSE keeping track of the institution's many connections with the Qaddafi regime, which "grew like Topsy."
- The acceptance of a £2.2 million ($3.43 million) contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants was "clearly of merit" and a service the school should be performing.
- Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, Colonel Qaddafi's son, was receiving more help with his Ph.D. than the LSE was aware of, including an arrangement whereby he would dictate his thesis to advisers who would then write it up. (All further instances of "Qaddafi" in this piece refer to the younger Qaddafi.)
The allegation that Qaddafi's doctorate was plagiarized was investigated separately by the University of London, but Times Higher Education understands that it has not found enough evidence of ghostwriting to withdraw the award. It is not clear whether the University of London report will be published.
The Woolf report is particularly critical of the way a £1.5 million ($2.35 million) gift from the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) was presented to the LSE’s council in 2009, when the donation was approved. "The mistakes in presenting the gift to council were legion," it concludes.
An internal report by the university’s development council uncovered fears that the gift was funded by recycling bribes paid by Western companies in the hope of winning contracts in Libya, but this information was not fully passed on to the council. The case for accepting the gift in October 2009 was made by David Held, Qaddafi’s informal academic adviser. He joined the GICDF board that summer, but stepped down on the LSE council’s advice. Held is criticized by Lord Woolf for this conflict of interest.
Exactly who was responsible for failing to fully transmit concerns over the donation to the LSE council is a gray area in the report, which is believed not to have established who knew about the concerns and when.
Judith Rees, interim director of the LSE, writes in this week’s Times Higher Education that "on the way in which we handled the donation from the GICDF, Lord Woolf is damning."
"We have already been working on an up-to-date policy, with a clear procedure for scrutiny and clear lines of responsibility as set out by Woolf," she says.
She adds that the report marks a "sad day" for the school and the episode "will raise questions for the higher education sector as a whole."
The Woolf report also examines the LSE’s dealings with Qaddafi as a doctoral candidate. Despite concerns over the level of help that he was given, the report concludes that it was not wrong for him to hire the U.S. lobbying firm Monitor Group to conduct more than 100 interviews for his doctorate, as it is not unknown for students to commission research.
However, governance was not sufficiently joined up, and this meant that the school failed to "connect the dots" when several concerns were raised over the level of help Qaddafi was receiving with his Ph.D.
Qaddafi was "not in a good position to write a dissertation with the usual amount of supervision, but he could do so with extra teaching," the report says. He was initially rejected as a doctoral student by the LSE’s department of government, but the department of philosophy proved willing to accept his application and to give him extra supervision. Addressing this point, the report recommends that all departments at the institution should have the same admissions procedures.
It also finds that Qaddafi was taking his Ph.D. seriously, and does not conclude that his acceptance as a student came with any expectation of a donation.
Qaddafi, who delivered his thesis in 2007, is currently in the captivity of the new Libyan government, and is reported to be suffering from gangrene in his right hand. He is expected to be charged with "crimes against humanity," and to stand trial in Libya.