LONDON — An independent inquiry condemned the London School of Economics on Wednesday for its dealings with Libya under Moammar Gadhafi, concluding that the university should have exercised more caution before becoming involved with the regime.
The independent inquiry was tasked with establishing "the full facts" of the school's links to Libya and one of Gadhafi's sons, Seif al-Islam, and whether errors had been made in LSE's ties to the North African nation's increasingly violent regime.
"Before a global company embarks upon a relationship with a foreign partner, a due diligence assessment should be conducted. No similar exercise took place in this case," said Harry Woolf, a prominent judge and the inquiry's chair.
At issue in the inquiry was the university's decision to foster a relationship with Libya — a "cornerstone" of which was Seif al-Islam's admittance to the school — and whether LSE was right to accept a large donation from a Gadhafi-backed charity.
Long seen as the most respectable of Gadhafi's children, Seif al-Islam cultivated an image of a budding reformer, winning praise for talk of democracy and development — and the university seemed all too eager to have ties blossom.
But as protests began sweeping the Arab world, questions emerged about whether the younger Gadhafi's thesis had been ghostwritten — and whether he had done the work at all. He gave a rambling televised speech promising "rivers of blood" if demonstrators refused to accept government offers of reform.
The barrage of negative media attention over the university's former student prompted LSE's director, Howard Davies, to resign.
While Woolf praised Davies' "great experience and ability," he said ultimately "responsibility for what went wrong must rest with the director."
The Woolf report identified "a disconcerting number of failures" at the school, from management to the lack of an ethics code. It took fault with LSE's relations with the Gadhafis, and concluded that Seif al-Islam duped his advisers into thinking he had done his academic work on his own.
Though Seif al-Islam earned his doctorate from LSE in 2008, his academic career was "dogged by disquiet over the amount of outside assistance he was given," Woolf noted.
Woolf said he was told Seif needed extra help because "he wasn't a particularly good philosopher" and hated the required, pure Philosophy courses, but "it should have been appreciated that there was a risk that Seif would, to protect himself from the loss of face in not obtaining his Ph.D., be tempted to use his resources to obtain help with his work."
Despite numerous red flags, Woolf said a detailed investigation was only launched into Seif al-Islam's academic career after media latched on to the story in 2011.
The report said numerous examples of "questionable" help then came to light, including Seif's use of a dictation aide who communicated with professors on his behalf and emailed him thesis drafts.
Woolf said that an examination of Seif's LSE emails show he concealed the amount of assistance he was receiving. In one example, the dictation aide wrote that he "would like to work on" Seif al-Islam's thesis for "another couple of weeks."
"It is clear now that Seif duped the supervisors who worked so hard to assist him with his Ph.D.," Woolf said. "The level of assistance Seif was receiving would have benefited from an earlier examination in greater depth and a more vigorous response."
Woolf added that the fact that Seif al-Islam signed the agreement for a 1.5 million pound ($2.4 million) gift from the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation on the same day of the ceremony where he was formally awarded his doctorate "can only foster suspicions — already widespread in the Middle East and in related circles in London — that he, in effect, purchased his degree."
Woolf chastised LSE for not questioning the source of the charitable donation, deemed controversial from the start.
He said the board of directors never identified the true source of the money and should have questioned if or why the gift was being funded by private companies to curry favor with Seif.
"The foundation was undoubtedly Seif's alter ego," Woolf said. "If an institution makes the decision to engage with a particular regime, that does not negate the need to verify the source of a gift and the legality and ethics of its origins."
Coupled with already existing rumors about the authenticity of Seif al-Islam's work and buzz that admissions rules had been bent for the dictator's son, accepting the donation was damning evidence of the school's naivete about "the ease with which institutional reputations are damaged."
Noting that Seif al-Islam was "far from an ordinary student," Woolf said he benefited from a culture of "idealism" in which certain university departments allowed the admission of students who might "do some good for the world" but fall short of the typical admissions criteria.
Among Woolf's 15 recommendations for LSE was the creation of an ethics committee. Woolf suggested such a committee could have identified "the dangers and risks of the scale of the connection that was developing" with Libya.
LSE said it will implement all of Woolf's recommendations.