LSE’s Libya mess: implications for academia?

A messy scandal – This Telegraph article explores the wider implications of the scandal and sheds light on the murky nexus of politics that LSE was probably only a small part of. While LSE has good reasons to be sorry now, there is no reason not to believe Howard Davies when he says

The grant from the foundation was used to support work on civil society in north Africa, which will have value in the future. The training programmes we have run in Libya will also prove valuable in enhancing the practical skills of many people who will be needed under whatever successor regime emerges. I should also say that I have no evidence whatsoever that anyone has behaved improperly in this whole episode. To the best of my current knowledge (though we are currently reviewing the evidence), the degrees to Saif Gaddafi were correctly awarded, and there was no link between the grant and the degrees.

Davies resigned of course, accepting moral responsibility for the loss of face the institution has suffered in recent days – the right thing to do anyway. It is also easy to see that academic institutions have a greater public responsibility, as compared to say financial institutions. What is, say the moral burden on the financial institutions and their highly qualified fund managers that have happily accepted, managed and grown Gaddafi’s funds? Are policy think-tanks subject to similar levels of scrutiny? Is the Monitor group taking a similar hit for its role in this mess?

But this also raises a couple of other important questions 

  • How closely should universities work with governments – while advising governments on policy, when does one go from being a policy advocate to being an instrument of government policy?
  • Should we expect academic institutions to have better foresight? Is that even possible when it comes to politics and power?

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