One of the biggest losers in the Libyan revolt against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics (LSE), who resigned in disgrace earlier this month for accepting a contribution from a charity under the thumb of the Libyan regime.
In January 2010, the LSE accepted a donation worth approximately $2.4 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. The charity is controlled by the dictator's son, Saif, who said last month that the Libyan regime would fight "to the last bullet" to stay in power. Yet last January, the LSE praised the Gaddafi Foundation as being "committed to the promotion of civil society and the development of democracy."
As the death toll rose in Libya, pressure mounted on the LSE to return the Libyan donation. Davies "resigned in shame and bemoaned the impact the donation had brought on the university's reputation," wrote Robin Simcox, a research fellow with the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a British research organization.
Suddenly, "universities taking huge amounts of cash from murderous dictators was a problem," he added.
Before the revolution in Libya, British universities had a much more welcoming attitude toward taking money from dictators. In 2009, Simcox authored a report for the CSC spotlighting the role of repressive regimes in funding British universities. He found that regimes like those in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia "were essentially buying control over British academia."
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal appointed university management committee members in Edinburgh and Cambridge. Durham University accepted cash from Iran and admitted that "pro-regime speakers" had been permitted to monopolize a school event. And Beijing was permitted to establish educational centers it termed part of its "foreign propaganda strategy."
Though no similar study has been done, American universities have similarly courted endowments from some of the same players.
The British government and university system both deserve blame for this state of affairs, Simcox said. The government seeks to use "Islamic studies centers" financed by "huge amounts of fundamentalist, often Wahhabi cash. The ideologies that drive such governments do not quell radical Islam, they fuel it," he wrote. And in "a supposed spirit of 'engagement' and 'inter-faith understanding,' cash that dictators have stolen from those they subjugate has rolled into British academia."