Howard Davies, Director of the LSE, has resigned over the acceptance of money by the LSE from the Gadaffi regime, and a formal inquiry into the whole affair has been announced. Davies’ resignation letter is clear that he has fallen on his sword because he accepts responsibility for the reputational damage done over the last week or so – not for entering into the arrangements per se.
Is the more or less grudging involvement of social theorists with the Libyan regime in the 2000s now shown to be an index of naivety, or stupidity, or venality? The involvement of David Held and the LSE has been much discussed this week, via Saif Gaddafi’s PhD, and an optimistic commentary by Anthony Giddens in 2007 unearthed. Rather more interesting perhaps is the democratic theorist Benjamin Barber, whose involvement with the Qadaffi Foundation is long-standing. Here is a comment by Barber in 2007 on the ‘normalisation’ of relations with Libya, around nuclear weapons and the ‘war on terror’ in particular. Barber has now resigned from this organisation, and this involvement is the basis of his rather sobering analysis of the prospects for democratization in Libya whatever the outcome of current events.
One sidebar to political upheaval this week in Libya has been the story about Saif Gaddafi’s academic credentials, holding as he does a PhD from the LSE. In re-posted profiles from 2006 and 2009, he is presented as a reformer in waiting, and credited with influencing the relative normalisation of Libya’s international relations. Now it looks a little like a means of providing intellectual respectability for the anointed son. Gaddafi’s PhD was supervised by David Held, who has professed a certain degree of disappointment at the conduct of his former student this week. There is some discussion on the blogosphere suggesting that somehow the cosmopolitan theory that Gaddafi used in this thesis is now shown to be complicit with state-sponsored violence. A bit of a stretch, that argument.
The more interesting aspect of this story is the funding relationship between the LSE and the Libyan regime, which has suddenly become very embarrassing indeed, provoking sit-ins and rapid disavowals (this particular deal was opposed at the time it was established by the late Fred Halliday). This is hardly the first time that a University has been embroiled in potentially dubious relationships wfide runders. But it is timely, in the current context of UK debates about the future of University funding – the long term trajectory of institutions such as the LSE is to seek greater ‘independence’ by substituting public funding for a varied portfolio of private funding. Anyone who has received alumni literature from an Oxbridge college in the last few years will have had this aim more or less explicitly acknowledged. Again, not new, an old story in the US. Nevertheless, this is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, and it remains the case that the putative ‘brand value’ of elite universities in the UK as private players in an international marketplace for higher education does depend on a massive, century old public subsidy. So the sorts of reputational risks involved in diversifying university funding are likely to be heightened for quite some time into the future. Cosmopolitanism can be a bit grubby, it turns out.