UK university director quits over Libya links

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2011 5:32 AM
UK university director quits over Libya links

The outgoing director of the London School of Economics said Friday he regretted taking a large donation from a foundation linked to the family of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi _ but was not sorry about agreeing to train civil servants from the Libyan regime.

Howard Davies, who announced Thursday he was stepping down as head of the university, acknowledged the institution's reputation had been damaged by his decision to accept money from a foundation run by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the leader's son and a former LSE student.

"The reputation of the school is my responsibility and it has been damaged and I think that I need to take the responsibility for that," Davies told BBC radio. "I think it'll recover more quickly if I accept responsibility for two errors of judgment."

He said those errors were accepting the donation and becoming an economic envoy to Libya at the invitation of the British government.

Davies defended the decision to offer courses for members of the Libyan government as part of a training program for the country's future leaders.

"To say that we will not train officials in developing countries because of things their regimes might or might not do I think is very curious," Davies said. "They were from all kinds of parts of the Libyan administration and Libyan private companies, all people whose skills will be needed in any regime."

The university's council has announced an independent inquiry, headed by a former chief justice of England and Wales, to investigate the institution's relationship with Libya and with the younger Gadhafi.

The LSE accepted a donation of 1.5 million pounds for research from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, run by Seif al-Islam, in 2009.

The university said that 300,000 pounds ($488,061) of that amount had been received and would now be spent on a scholarship fund for North African students.

In a letter released Thursday, Davies said his advice to the council "that it was reasonable to accept the money ... 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," he wrote.

Davies also served as an economic envoy to Libya on behalf the government, and in 2007 accepted $50,000 paid to the university in return for his advice to Libya's sovereign wealth fund. In his letter, he said he had misjudged those decisions.

"There was nothing substantive to be ashamed of in that (modest and unpaid) work, and I disclosed it fully, but the consequence has been to make it more difficult for me to defend the institution," he wrote.

The LSE said its inquiry would also look into the academic authenticity of Seif Gadhafi's Ph.D. thesis, awarded in 2008, after rumors emerged that the parts of the document were plagiarized and ghostwritten. Davies said that as far as he knew the degrees were correctly awarded, and there was no link between the donation and the degrees.

Seif al-Islam was long seen as the most respectable of Gadhafi's children, cultivating the image of a budding reformer and winning plaudits from world leaders and rights campaigners with talk of democracy and development.

He attended the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos as one of its "Young Global Leaders" _ a gathering of leaders under 40 who "have already demonstrated their commitment to serving society at large," according to the summit's website. The same year, Human Rights Watch's Sarah Leah Whitson praised the younger Gadhafi's charity as driving what she called a "Tripoli Spring" of openness and reform.

But as the protest movement besieging the Arab world began to rock his father's regime he gave a rambling televised speech last week and threatened "rivers of blood" if demonstrators refused to accept government offers of reform.

Some critics said the LSE should never have established ties with him.

"The LSE did itself an enormous disservice," said Ben Cohen, an alumnus who now works as a communications consultant and commentator. "Academics who know the Middle East and should know better decided to give Seif (al-Islam) the benefit of the doubt."

But students interviewed at the school's central London campus Thursday were largely sympathetic to the dilemma faced by administrators and academics.

Lisa Lee, 19, said that while she supported the move to cut the school's ties with the Gadhafis, she noted that the LSE "gets a lot of donations from a lot of different people. They can't be judged necessarily on their father."

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Aaron Edwards contributed to this report.