Raheem Kassam is the director of the campus watchdog ‘Student Rights’ and Executive Editor at The Commentator. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaheemJKassam. Here he responds to Bruce Anderson's column from this morning.
Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur. And that’s all the semi-relevant Latin you’ll hear from me. Frivolities like this lend little to an argument and there’s already far too much to say about the matter at hand. Let’s get down to business.
Lord Woolf’s report about the London School of Economics’ ties to Libya is a scathing and enlightening view behind the scenes of a British university gone rogue.
The 185-page document underlines a catalogue of errors beginning with Saif’s admission to the LSE, despite being under-qualified and rejected from various departments, to the fact that in the face of warnings by academics and management about the reputational risk to the university, due diligence was simply not applied on this matter. It’s quite frightening when you think about it.
Since investigating the matter as the Arab Spring swept through Libya, my organisation, Student Rights, has discovered numerous discrepancies, all laid bare by the Woolf Report. Some key concerns are that:
- Sir Howard Davis didn’t even know Saif was a student at the LSE during his MSc year until he read out his name at the graduation ceremony;
- The LSE council was not provided supporting documents for the source of Saif’s £1.5m donation, and the picture is still murky today (one probable source is described as having been convicted of bribery prior to this) and Saif himself said that BP was a contributor, while the BP Chairman was also the Chairman of the LSE Council;
- Saif’s tutors and staff at the university raised suspicions of external help to the point where one member of staff had to go and physically check that it was indeed Saif sitting his exams, while the Woolf report indeed holds up that he received an abnormal amount of assistance during his PhD, when he was not even resident in London (an LSE requirement to undertake this).
And these are just a few of many salient points noted by the report.
Bruce Anderson earlier noted on these pages that hindsight was being leveraged in order to condemn the university, but indeed that cements the point that Lord Woolf makes in his recommendations.
Had the university exercised due diligence, with an embedded ethics procedure and full transparency around the matter, they would have noticed the inordinate amount of incongruities surrounding Saif’s admission and his resulting academic credentials. It was the LSE’s lack of foresight and forthrightness that caused ‘serious damage’ to the LSE’s reputation and caused ‘significant distress to staff, students and academics’.
Adrian Hall, the school’s Secretary and Director of Administration himself told Lord Woolf that he ‘had not appreciated just how extensive the LSE’s involvement with Libya had become’. It is incredibly naïve for Bruce Anderson to say that the state stopped being a fruit-cake-ocracy – in reality it still was, simply masked by a thick layer of Blair-flavoured icing.
Alas Mr. Anderson seems more intent on making excuses that don’t really hold up when discussing academic integrity, which is what a university should uphold, irrespective of government positions on fruitcakes.
A senior Foreign Office official is noted to have asked Oxford University to admit Saif (at Saif’s request). He was rebuffed. Sadly, the LSE was not as poised on the matter and caved. This new relationship led to various contracts between the LSE and Libya and a post for the director Sir Howard Davis himself as Tony Blair’s Economic Envoy to Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
Bruce Anderson and I can probably disagree until the cows come home (or until Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi is back in a British prison) about how much scrutiny the university as an academic institution should have levied upon Saif, his qualifications, aspirations and government involvement in the matter.
But one thing cannot be ignored, and that is that the United Kingdom should not use its universities as a conduit or as a boon to its foreign policy aspirations. There is simply too much at stake and for the University of London to hide behind the Data Protection Act in not releasing details as to why it has chosen not to strip Saif Gaddafi of his PhD will be viewed as cowardice in perpetuum. Ok, I caved on the Latin.