Considering Howard Davies
The Director of the London School of Economics (LSE), Sir Howard Davies, has resigned from his post, an unexpected casualty of the popular uprising in Libya. He had accepted Libyan money on LSE’s behalf, and had acted as adviser to Gaddafi’s government. As the Libyan régime suddenly began to look toxic, the role played by Howard Davies in creating this link for the college became a serious problem, and he resigned.
Two issues arise from this. First, there is Howard Davies himself. He was no typical university head, having been a senior public servant as well as a businessman and business representative (he was, amongst other things, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry and chairman of the Financial Services Authority). As head of LSE he was seen as a tough manager but also a sympathetic leader, and I believe was on the whole liked and respected by the academic community. However, his business background may have contributed to the Libyan misjudgment. The debate about the best credentials for university leaders will continue, with Davies as a mixed-message example.
Secondly, what position should universities adopt in their relations with other countries? Is there a ‘liberal democracy test’ that should be applied before any relationships are forged? If so, does that imply a cultural as well as political frame of reference? Might it look as if, for a European university, it is not safe to do business with any country outside of Europe and North America? That LSE should now withdraw from all Libyan links is understandable and right. But how judgmental should we all be that these links were created in the first place? And what should other universities now be doing in reviewing their portfolio of global partnerships?