Following a six-week internal review by the University of London, the identity of Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen’s thesis examiners will remain off-limits to the public. Rosalind Frendo, Director of Compliance and Secretary to the Board upheld the earlier decision of Kit Good, Data Protection and Information Compliance Manager, that the Privacy Act exempted such information from public disclosure. Frendo called the identification of university examiners “personal data” and denied a Freedom of Information request.
The identity of Tsai’s London School of Economics thesis examiners was called into question last year after Tsai belatedly submitted her 1984 thesis, thirty-five years late. However, the thesis submitted last summer to the LSE Library was not a finished, signed thesis. Instead, the tardy thesis entitled Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions appears to be a draft document patching together several separate papers.
Tsai has not named the thesis examiners but has written in a memoir they were so impressed they wanted to give her a double degree. The London School of Economicsdeclined to identify the thesis examiners but stated they conducted a “viva” with Tsai on October 16, 1983. Inexplicably, the viva date was a Sunday, an uncommon day for such a review. When pressed on the matter, Rachael Maguire, Information and Records Manager, directed all further inquiries to the LSE parent body, the University of London. After an initial denial of the identities by the University, Rosalind Frendo undertook an internal review of the matter.
Frendo will not talk about the thesis except to explain why the names of the examiners are exempt from public disclosure. Frendo wrote, “The University does consider that the information—which comprises part of a student record—is personal data.”
“Students will have a high expectation that records of their registration and the attendance at the University, which may reference a number of factors relating to their professional and personal life, would not be subject to public disclosure. Even in the case of a PhD thesis, where there is an expectation that the thesis would be publicly available, there is no expectation that further records of the assessment would be disclosed.”
“I believe, in this case, the legitimate interests of a third party do not outweigh the rights of the data subjects in the disclosure of further detail from the student’s record.”
“I do not believe that the requirements for transparency outweighs the privacy of individuals in the context of this request.”
“I have reviewed the request and conclude that the University was correct to take this position, which is a default position it holds for all its students and alumni. I have then gone on to assess the engagement of the exemption and find that the University has taken a reasonable position in its response.”
The academic controversy surrounding Tsai’s thesis has dropped from the news although it continues to be debated in the social media. Frendo’s decision that the thesis examiners will not be identified is likely to renew charges of critics that Tsai did not actually earn her degree and that the University of London is covering up an embarrassing mistake.