Howard Davies, Libya, and the LSE

The big news yesterday – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many friends repost the exact same link before – was that the director of the London School of Economics, Howard Davies, had resigned his position over the the Libyan donation scandal that’s brewing.

I’ve said this all before, that there was some bad mojo brewing on Houghton Street, but no one seemed to care. Despite the thuggery and brutality clearly emanating from both Gaddafi son and pere, no one seemed to care until the regime was literally killing people in the streets. At the same time, obviously Davies is not the sole person to blame – much of the institution’s staff and even student body should be held with some degree of contempt. And the LSE is hardly the only institution guilty of this sort of disreputable association. Still, there was in incredible lapse of judgment shown on Davies’ part.

I advised the [LSE] council that it was reasonable to accept the money and that has turned out to be a mistake. There were risks involved in taking funding from sources associated with Libya and they should have been weighed more heavily in the balance.

I’m not sure in what reality accepting the donations would have been a good thing – it either would have been secretive blood money or eventually public-knowledge blood money – and while Davies may have held the best of intentions, it was still an utterly wrong decision. He did do the honorable thing by resigning, and that at least restores a bit of luster to his reputation. But coupled with accusations of plagiarism by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on his PhD dissertation, it seems like a pretty nefarious spot the school has found itself in.

I would also like to take this occasion to point out that Simon Jenkins is a bit of a dick, accusing all LSE students of not caring about the whole affair because it didn’t involve the Tories and General Pinochet:

When the school’s distinguished Arabist, the late Fred Halliday, protested about these links before his death last year, he appears to have been alone. Money did not just talk, it strutted the LSE campus and swept aside all dignity and common sense. Needless to say, the place is now awash in self-flagellation. But as yet there has been no inquiry into this bizarre episode in the school’s history. I wonder what LSE staff and students would be saying if the saga had concerned Oxford University, a Tory government and General Pinochet.

Halliday was one of the most honorable men at the school; it was very sad indeed to see him go. And no one of any standing has yet replaced him. I fear no one will. And in all likelihood, this will not deter future acceptance of questionable donations. The big ‘gamble’ that Howard Davies took was not in accepting the money, but in whether anyone would find out. And if that happened, whether anyone would even care. As it turns out, nothing short of mass murder will cause much of an outcry at all. Is that really the bar we want to set?

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