Universities, despots and plagiarism
I have been in Washington DC, and have only seen the obvious bits of reportage about the resignation of Howard Davies, after the Gaddafi funding row.
I have to say that, nasty as Gaddafi is now proving himself (again?) to be, I feel rather sorry for Davies. Every government, for the last thirty years at least, has urged universities to chase outside funding; the chances were always going to be that some of it would come from dubious (or worse) sources.
For the fact is that people who make a very very great deal of money (the kind of money that would significantly fund a university) are often not particularly nice. I know there are exceptions, but you know what I mean.
Sure, the spectrum is a wide one, and it runs from the criminal to the merely ruthless. At one end, there are the Gaddafis, the arms dealers and fraudsters (as well, if you like, as the tobacco companies). At the other are those who had a brilliant idea or a timely patented invention PLUS the drive to market and exploit it. Clever ideas on their own dont make people rich; it's clever ideas combined with a capacity to corner the market that does it.
Send universities (or museums, or whoever) chasing those multi-billionaires -- licensed begging, the husband calls it -- and sooner or later, you will find they have been tapping into a Gaddafi. It's hypocritical, when that happens, to point the finger (I'm not sure if ethical fund raising is any more feasible than an ethical foreign policy).
I feel conflicted on this one. Half of me wants nothing to do with it and thinks that we should fund universities etc properly from the public purse (however ethically tainted that may or may not be). The other half thinks that getting money from the bad and turning it to good ends might be a positive thing to do. I certainly suspect that many of the founders of Cambridge colleges acquired their cash in decidedly dubious ways, but we have been doing good with their ill-gotten gains for centuries. In a way, that counts as a moral transformation.
The other issue has been the spotlight on Gaddafi junior's PhD: plagiarised or not? I certainly havent seen enough to know, but I was taken aback by an article by Lord Desai in the Guardian on Friday. He was one of the PhD examiners and he wrote: "No one at this stage <ie when he examined it> had said there were problems of authorship or plagiarism with the thesis".
I had always thought that determining authorship and originality was one of the jobs of the PhD examiner.