We at the Noumenal Realm have taken a conscious decision to abstain from writing about a great many of the current affairs, but this is more because many of us are in conversation and we seem to end up at a lot of moot points that don’t really go anywhere (but then again, the same can be said about our thoughts on philosophy being moot). We have considered trying to write on the recent events over the Arab world but we are struggling to establish a ‘frame’ about it.
Anyway, one story has taken our irk lately. Michael has sent us a large spate of articles from the British broadsheet press of late and much of it has come out so quickly and reports are legion that clarity and erudition is sacrificed over sensationalism and repetition. Let’s focus on a specific story that has flared up the (otherwise) quiet area of Higher Education News. The civil unrest that began in Tunisia which has spread to Libya has led many media pundits to call out the behaviour of certain Heads of State and other officials who have made efforts to bridge a relationship with Libya in (what seems) predominantly economic relationships with the suggested intention of fostering also a cultural/political exchange. With this going on in the background, there have been reports which have emerged almost concurrently over the LSE which include:
- The allegation that Col. Gadaffi’s son plagiarised his Doctoral thesis awarded by the London School of Economics (University of London)
- The (substantiated) fact of Saif Gadaffi’s financial input into the LSE for a North African Research project
- Reports of senior figures in the LSE involved with Libya with the suggested intent of educating the future political elite of the country
These allegations are seperate, but understandably, when public scrutiny comes into one specific issue, a variety of related issues will then emerge, this is natural for the inquisitive journalist to seek a story. However, the issues relating to each of them suggest that they are taken all together and amount to a single judgment or criticism, namely, the undermining of the intellectual independence of the LSE and the suggestion that Gadaffi’s doctorate was ‘bought’.
There are seperate stories here, which Lord Desai notably points out in a piece on the issue this week. Plagiarism is a serious issue, but it is also an issue for the internal scrutiny of the degree awarding body. Like legal cases, this is not the matter of public judgment. It is the primed conclusion (considering the cognitive bias literature) to bring up this story and then conjoin it with the suggestion that Gadaffi also had influence over the LSE by means of a charitable donation. Conjunction is a natural way to accrue beliefs, as Hume pointed out, but also as Hume pointed out, just because we see a phenomenon of class E(ffect) consequent to class C(ause), does not follow that all E’s follow C’s, but it is natural to believe so.
The issue of the LSE’s financial influence with Libya is a more complex issue which very much makes the nature of higher education necessarily political. The consequence of the sullying of the LSE’s reputation culminated in the resignation of its head. In some ways the LSE is a victim, but that is not to say it is without guilt. It may well be the case that the LSE accepted a donation from the Gadaffi family, but funds in higher education can be very political. Consider the case of the Templeton Foundation which Dawkins infamously called out as being a religiously oriented research body. Consider how much of the funding in Engineering departments come from organisations which are either directly or indirectly involved with the arms trade. Universities have been, and to a much larger extent currently are encouraged to find a wider range of funds which includes establishing relationships with a variety of bodies, and many of them have political or ideological commitments. With the culling of public funds that go to the university, the state has virtually handed this option of forging relationships as a strong suggestion.
The LSE is no different to many universities who make relationships to improve funds. I deem it an equivalence to call out the LSE’s involvement with Libya with all other universities who forge partnerships with organisations which conduct research into aerospace who then also are involved as defense contractors. The blood money accusation is the same, but there is much more than an allegation and accusation here in play with the LSE set of stories, it is a loss of face. The loss of face is in the fact that a history of British officials (not limited to the LSE) forging relationships with Arab states who are now facing serious criticism from within their own countries and without. Calling out such relationships and partnerships is important and a fairly legitimate excercise in journalism, but this story is obscured by the obvious demagogue terms on which the stories set themselves out.