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LONDON -- The Libyan crisis just claimed another victim. On Thursday, the director of the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) resigned from his post over concerns about his university's close ties to the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
Sir Howard Davies is a prominent London intellectual and former deputy governor of the Bank of England who's been running the school since 2003. He stepped down at an emergency meeting of the LSE's governing body last night, as it sought to manage fallout from recent disclosures about the university's controversial financial links with Libya.
"The short point is that I am responsible for the school's reputation, and that has suffered," Davies said. (Disclosure: My husband teaches at the LSE.)
The crisis erupted last week when the LSE announced it was cutting ties with the Libyan leader's second son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, who obtained a doctorate at the institution in 2009. One year after he graduated, Saif's charity donated 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) to help launch a research program on politics, economics and society in North Africa.
But in the wake of the Libyan government's violent repression of its citizens in recent weeks -- not to mention Saif's televised defense of the regime -- many at the university (including Saif's former dissertation chair) publicly distanced themselves from the dictator's son. For its part, the LSE announced that it was shutting down the Gadhafi-financed research program and returning all outstanding funds not already spent (approximately 1.2 million pounds).
But the controversy has not gone away. Questions about the authenticity of Saif's dissertation have surfaced, and large chunks of it appear to have been lifted from other sources. (Click here to see a sample.)
In the preface to his dissertation, Saif acknowledged the help of the Boston-based consulting firm Monitor in carrying out research for his work. And on Thursday, Monitor acknowledged in a statement that part of the work for which it had been paid $250,000 a month by the Libyan government included helping Saif with his dissertation. While not technically illegal, it certainly doesn't help someone being accused of plagiarism to learn that he didn't conduct his own interviews. Nor does it help the reputation of his advisers or the university at which they teach.
The LSE also acknowledged that in addition to the Gadhafi-financed North Africa center, the university had also signed a $3.6 million contract with Libya to train its civil service, of which is has already received $2.4 million. Davies also personally advised the country's sovereign wealth fund in 2007, a service for which the university received an additional $50,000. And Saif's charity further bestowed approximately $37,000 upon the LSE to support academic speakers' travel to Libya.
It's also the case that Davies is hardly the only person who's made a friend of Gadhafi or his offspring in the past decade. In last few days, there have been calls for the Duke of York (currently Britain's trade ambassador) to step down because of his close friendship with Saif. There's also been renewed criticism of former Primer Minister Tony Blair for his quite public embrace of Gadhafi while still in office -- as a way of turning Gadhafi westward and away from terrorism. (Others saw it as a path to lucrative oil deals.)
Still, if you read this article in the Daily Mail, it would appear that the LSE was up to its eyebrows in Gadhafi money and ties. A host of faculty and senior advisers connected to various initiatives on campus were either doing research directly funded by the Gadhafi family, advising the Libyan government or writing puff pieces about how progressive and "Western" Gadhafi had become in recent years. (Apparently, in addition to helping Saif finish his dissertation, Monitor was also paid by the Libyan government to modernize its image by bringing prominent thinkers to meet with the leader and enhance his standing abroad.)
The LSE and many of the faculty involved in such initiatives continue to distance themselves from the regime. One member of the LSE's ruling council is also a leading human rights activist in the U.K. Following the most recent turmoil, she said that "the council has been completely united in its embarrassment and its regret. As a human rights campaigner, I can only share bucketfuls of both."
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