Responding to purported instances of plagiarism raised by academics at other universities, who have asked not to be identified, as well as contributors to a collaborative website, Underwood said the School is following standard procedures in its investigation.
But such protocol may be overturned if a meeting of the LSE Council, the School’s highest decision-making body, to be held Tuesday, finds such an investigation is not appropriate and practical, given “the questions raised by recent events” in the North Africa country, Underwood said.
Underwood told the Beaver the School was “duty-bound” to follow up on the number of allegations, even though, taken individually, none are particularly substantial.
“The School is not rushing to say there is unarguable evidence that merits further investigation,” Underwood said.
The Registrar told the Beaver PhD theses are not ordinarily checked using Internet-based plagiarism-detection services, such as Turnitin, unless there is prior cause for suspicion. Universities and schools often buy licenses to services, such as Turnitin, which check documents for plagiarism.
A student must be informed of the specific concerns surrounding their work, and consent to use of the programme. However, at the time of Gaddafi’s enrollment as a PhD candidate, clauses pertaining to Turnitin were not present in students’ agreements.
Underwood also said other practical considerations may hinder the School’s ability to carry out a conventional plagiarism investigation. For example, Underwood said students under investigation must be given the right to reply, which is “probably not [Gaddafi’s] priority at this minute”. Students are also expected to be present at panel hearings which can form part of the process, Underwood said.
Gaddafi completed both his master’s degree and his PhD in the School’s Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method.
On Monday, the department’s head, Professor Luc Bovens, told the Beaver all standard procedures were followed during Gaddafi’s time at the LSE. He said Gaddafi took all the modules required of him, and his examinations were completed under the same conditions as other students.
Bovens also said Gaddafi’s marks were “comparable” to those of other candidates.
In fact, Bovens told the Beaver the only distinguishing characteristic of Gaddafi’s time as a PhD candidate was the presence of bodyguards in the department building when he was working with his supervisor.
Two members of the Department of Philosophy named in the thesis’s acknowledgements, Dr. Alex Voorhoeve and Professor Nancy Cartwright, declined to comment.
Professor David Held, a co-director of LSE Global Governance, who worked closely with Gaddafi during his time at the School, told the Guardian last week that Gaddafi “came to voice very serious commitments to liberal values and the human rights agenda.”
Underwood told the Beaver philosophy department records indicate a continual improvement in the quality of the drafts of Gaddafi’s thesis.
He also responded to concerns about Gaddafi’s admission to study at the LSE, saying the thirty-eight-year old was “properly qualified, had strong references, and a decent GPA from the California State University”.
Bovens sought to dissuade any questions about the authenticity of Gaddafi’s thesis.
“There are reasons why students may accidentally plagiarise,” he told the Beaver. “Psychological, cultural, and accidental – it is easy to copy large chunks of the source material into one’s notes, especially if English is not one’s first language.”
Bovens also stressed the need to protect the rights of students, and said an investigation could not “single out a particular student”.
Bovens added, however, that depending on the investigation’s findings, the philosophy department may commission a formal investigation headed by someone not previously involved with Gaddafi’s studies, which will then move to either dismiss the case, or conduct a panel hearing.
Regardless of the School’s decision, public scrutiny of Gaddafi’s thesis, entitled “The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions”, is unlikely to dissipate. National newspapers, such as the Times and the Independent, as well as the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, have all discussed the issue.
Moreover, additional allegations have emerged, claiming pportions of Gaddafi’s thesis were ghost-written by consultants at Monitor Group, a management consulting firm, employing former a MI6 agent who sits on the advisory board of LSE Global Governance.
Underwood said though such allegations consist of “hearsay and rumour”, the School will ask the individuals responsible for the claims for further details, and carry out investigations as necessary.