In the interest of getting the news you can’t find anywhere else, a complaint has been filed against the University of London over the non-disclosure of the identity of Tsai Ing-wen’s 1984 London School of Economics thesis examiners. Tsai is President of the Republic of China in-exile and has frequently boasted of her PhD.
The complaint has been filed with the Information Commission office headed by Elizabeth Denham, whose career has been based on public disclosure. The ICO has not indicated when a decision is expected.
The University of London has refused to reveal the identity of Tsai’s thesis examiners citing her right to privacy. After a six-week internal review the University declared the examiner’s identities to be the “personal data” of Tsai and not subject to disclosure. The identities became an issue last summer after Tsai belatedly filed her 1984 thesis with the LSE Library, thirty-five years late.
The ICO complaint outlines the arguments for and against disclosure and is reprinted here in full:
The University of London is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act for its failure to identify the thesis Examiners and the date they certified by their signatures the 1984 London School of Economics thesis of Tsai Ing-wen. The University of London cites an FOIA exemption claiming the identities of Examiners are the “personal data” of the student. The University of London offers no citations of support for its assertion of privacy protection nor does it cite any precedent to void transparency of the diploma process.
The University of London defense of its non-disclosure of information is summed up in one sentence. “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 assessment would be disclosed.
The names of Examiners and the dates they certify theses with their signatures are not “further records of assessment.” The role of the Examiners is fundamental to the University mission and is an authenticating necessity for the integrity of a University of London degree. Lack of transparency in the degree award process harms the University of London and the public by undermining confidence in the legitimacy of the degree.
Current LSE policy on the nomination of Examiners precludes any student control over the Examiner selection process. “It is not the responsibility of students to nominate their own examiners and students do not have the right to request and have appointed examiners of their choosing.
Further, Examiner records are kept in the custody of the PhD Academy and not in student files. “Examiners must provide the PhD Academy with the following completed paperwork within two weeks of the viva having taken place: (a) examiner’s report form—confirming the examination outcome.”
If the identity of an Examiner is made in a student record the mere presence of the name does not confer authority to the student to void disclosure of the Examiner’s identity. In the case at hand, heightened public scrutiny of the University of London degree process is necessary:
- The 1984 thesis was not filed with the LSE Library until 2019.
- The tardy thesis appears to be a draft document only, not a finished, certified thesis.
- The student had a non-Doctoral instructor as Adviser.
- LSE did not award its own degrees, instead offering the University of London degree.
- LSE cannot or will not name the thesis Examiners.
The University of London has not raised any privacy protection claim for the Examiners themselves and therefore no response is necessary on that point. The privacy protection claim for the student is non-meritorious and contrary to the Information Act mandate of public disclosure. The University of London should be compelled to supply the requested information.
Simply stated, a PhD degree from the University of London based on a thesis requires certification by Examiners’ signatures that the degree award is warranted. The Examiners’ identity and date of signatures are necessary and absolutely essential to the integrity of the University of London degree. It is contrary to the Information Act to withhold such information from public disclosure.