Controversial Donation to the London School of Economics

A former student of the London School of Economics donated nearly $500,000 to the school’s Global Governance to support academic research.  However, the school is reluctant to accept it due to two controversial issues surrounding the donor.  First, the former student is being accused of plagiarism in his 2007 doctoral thesis. Second, he is the son of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Seif al-Islam el Qaddafi earned both his master’s degree and Ph. D. from the London School of Economics.  His doctoral thesis was entitled “Role of Civil Society in the Democratization of Global Governance of Institutions.”  The professors to whom he submitted his thesis do not recall anything that may have indicated that he was guilty of plagiarism at the time he handed in the paper.  In fact, they recall having him rewrite it after calling it too idealistic.

There is no reason given for the allegation of plagiarism.  Further, as Sachin Patel, editor of the school paper explained, plagiarism investigations require the informed consent of the student so it is unlikely that he will consent as, “that may not be his first priority right now.”

The accusation may have arisen due to the pledge Qaddafi made in January to donate 2.45 million dollars to the school, specifically the Global Governance Department, to create a research program to focus on politics, government, and society in Northern Africa.  It is from this pledge that the recent $488,000 was obtained by the school.

The student body has been vehemently opposed to accepting the money from the Libyan leader’s son.  Opposition from the students has included protests in the cafeteria and in front of the director’s office.  They want their opinion to be clear – they do not want to have an association with the Libyan government, particularly at this time.   Professors at the school likewise do not wish for the school to be associated with the donor and feel that accepting this donation has backfired.

Should the London School of Economics accept this money?  Should they dedicate it for what el-Qaddafi requested or limit it to scholarships for Libyan students?  Is the school’s concern with being connected to the son of the Libyan leader, a former student, justified? Do you think the allegations of plagiarism are legitimate?


  1. To digress a little bit, this blog topic puts me in mind of the recent Supreme Court case: Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the right to pay for pre-election advertising materials because, under the 1st Amendment, they hold analogous rights to individuals, who are entitled to express their views through political speech.

    I’m reminded of this case because part of its logic (expressed in the Dissent) has to do with the question of whether corporate money can have an undue influence in the area of campaign finance. There is a concern running through Citizens United that though the ability to express political speech shouldn’t be dependent on the wealth of a speaker, a speaker and all of his contextual underpinnings can change the way in which legal rights under the 1st Amendment are perceived and awarded.

    Money, in short, is not always just money. It derives meaning from its source and has implications. In terms of the London School of Economics, I think that a decision to accept Qaddafi’s donation would be dubious. Perhaps contextually, however, this point is already moot. The School accepted Qaddafi’s tuition when he was a student there, which undoubtedly came from his father. It would seem hypocritical of it to refuse funding now on this same ground merely because trouble in Libya has recently resurfaced.

  2. It seems logical that the London School of Economics is in a bind to accept this donation or not. Are they only accepting the donation to benefit the school or is this an indirect form of accepting the Libyan government’s policies? The student body seems to take the latter view. It would seem wise for the school not to accept this money at such a controversial time. Will the school feel a sense of obligation to abide by Quaddafi’s plans for how the money is used? Will the opposition from the student body and professors escalate? How will the thousands of Libyan protestors currently in London react? These concerns lead to a safer choice not to accept the donation. On the other hand, Quaddafi’s tuition was paid by his father and thus in “connection” to the Libyan government. Would it be hypocritical not to accept the donation now after accepting his tuition or would it be a prudent decision given the state of the Libyan government today?

  3. It seems as though the plagiarism allegation is unsubstantiated. Clearly, the school would need to develop some additional proof to confirm that plagiarism did in fact occur before they refuse Qaddafi’s donation on this basis alone.

    With respect to refusing the donation because Qaddafi is Maummar el-Quaddafi’s son, the school was well aware of this fact when they admitted him as a student and accepted his tuition payments only a few short years ago. If he can attend the school as the son of Maummar el-Qaddafi, I see no reason why he cannot make a donation to the school as the son of Maummar el-Qaddafi. Additionally, it sounds like the money will be put to good use – a research program focusing on North African society and politics. So long as the money is used to support a good cause, what difference does it make where it comes from? The assertion that Qaddafi’s money should not be used to advance research because it comes from a “bad source”, is as nonsensical as arguing that money seized from drug cartels should not be used to support The Child Advocacy Center because the money is “dirty money”.

  4. I agree with Justin that the plagiarism allegation is unsubstantiated and seems to be used as an excuse to reject the donation. The crux of the issue is the fact that Qaddafi is the son of a Libyan leader and therefore his money is tainted in some way. Accepting his application, tuition, educating him, and graduating him (thereby placing him in the network of Alumni) illustrates that he is part of the academic community like all other alumni. Those alumni are not only allowed, but encouraged to donate money to the school. Not accepting the money puts the school in a hypocritical position and if they were that opposed to what his family stands for, they should not have accepted him in the first place. You cannot take someone’s tuition as “clean money” and then reject a donation from the same source as “dirty money.” The decision that the money was “clean” was made when they accepted his first dollar.

  5. I find it quite interesting that a school would refuse a donation. Being an alumni of Sacred Heart University, I have received numerous requests to donate to a school that I am no longer a student at. So, why would this school refuse money? As Mr. Guido has pointed out, how could a school accept this student’s tuition, but not a donation for a good cause? All schools hope to advance their research departments and usually accept any money that can help serve this goal. Is this school known to screen their donations and not their applicants? Are donations accepted based on a majority belief system at the school while diverse students are yet accepted into their enrollment? Additionally, I agree with Taylor Piscionere that after accepting the students tuition money, there should be no problem accepting the student’s donation.

  6. How do we know what the future will bring? We can argue that Universities receiving donations should have a more rigorous process for accepting donations. However, it is difficult for any University receiving donations to know what will happen to the respect and reputation of a donor. For instance, the former boss of Enron, Ken Lay, donated to his alma mater the University of Missouri, at which time Enron was the top of the Fortune 500 list. Bin Laden’s family donated to Tuffs and Harvard in the 90’s.

    When Gaddaffi was accepted to the London School of Economics the school felt that his political standing and reputation would be a benefit to their name. It seems they made a bad judgment call.

    I do not think the London School of Economics should be prosecuted in the media for accepting Gaddafi into the School, as it is impossible for them to have known what the future would bring. If inquiry into his PhD shows that he obtained it legitimately his PhD should not be revoked as many students are calling for even if his acquired “war criminal” reputation might haunt the school’s history.

    It seems there are conflicting news articles stating when the donation was made. An article in the Independent implies this money was donated in 2009, some has been used and some only being used this year. If true, should they give the money back because his reputation has changed? Or are we talking about money received in January as the above article mentions?

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