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Academic integrity in the spotlight

From London to Berlin, issues of integrity in the academy have received a significant amount of attention in recent weeks and generated dramatic results. The fallout from the unfolding sagas of alleged misconduct and/or poor judgment in the UK and Germany has included the resignations of the German minister of defence as well as the director of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

On 3 March 2011, Sir Howard Davies resigned as director of the venerable LSE, following an emergency meeting of the institution’s Council. At issue was the LSE’s multi-faceted relationship in recent years with the political regime and Gaddafi family in Libya. According to an LSE press release, these ties include (among other things) a 2009 agreement to accept a GBP 1.5 million (EUR 1.7 million) donation from the Gaddafi International Development Foundation and Charity, and a GBP 2.2 million (EUR 2.5 million) contract between LSE Enterprise and Libya’s Economic Development Board to train Libyan civil servants and professionals. Perhaps most embarrassing for the institution, however, has been the charge that Saif Gaddafi, son of Moammar Gaddafi, may have plagiarised parts of his doctoral thesis, completed as a requirement for the PhD he received from LSE in 2008. Recognising the scope and severity of concerns relating to the Libya connection, the LSE Council has called upon Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and former Chairman of the Council of University College London, to conduct an “independent external inquiry into the School’s relationship with Libya and with Saif Gaddafi and into related matters”. LSE’s current difficulties have served as a key example of the challenges faced by institutions in dealing with polemical donors, students and patrons, particularly in a complex international environment. Even Oxford University (according to a 27 March report by The Guardian) is apparently investigating a case of impropriety in the admission of, and acceptance of a doctoral thesis proposal from, Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of former Iranian president Akbar Rafsanjani

Meanwhile, the integrity of the research process and the responsibility of the academic community to monitor itself, has been on the minds of many Germans of late, in light of the drama surrounding Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg. The rising young star of the Christian Social Union, and a favourite of Chancellor Angela Merkel, had served as a member of parliament since 2002 and minister of defence since 2009, until his career was derailed by accusations in February 2011 that he plagiarised parts of his doctoral thesis. The news prompted strong reactions from the German Rectors’ Conference as well as the German academic, research, and political communities at large. In a dramatic fall from grace, zu Guttenberg’s alma mater, the University of Bayreuth revoked the degree in late February. In early March, zu Guttenberg resigned from his ministry post and parliament and now faces possible prosecution relating to breach of copyright.

London School of Economics and Political Science

University of Bayreuth German Rectors’ Conference The Guardian