Another hurdle has been cleared in the effort to penetrate the shroud of secrecy imposed by the University of London over Tsai Ing-wen’s controversial 1984 graduate thesis. The London School of Economics thesis was filed by Tsai with the LSE Library in 2019, thirty-five years late. The tardy filing of what appears to be a draft document triggered an academic firestorm in Taiwan with numerous scholars questioning the validity of Tsai’s PhD degree.
Pam Clements, Group Manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office of the United Kingdom, confirmed the office has accepted my complaint that a privacy exemption from disclosure was improperly applied by the University of London. “Your complaint has been accepted as eligible for further consideration and will be allocated to a case officer as soon as possible.” The case officer will oversee the ICO investigation.
Clements elaborated, “Generally we deal with complaints in the order we receive them, except where we have identified a complaint that can be resolved quickly or there is a compelling reason for a case to be accelerated.”
The London School of Economics has claimed Tsai’s thesis was reviewed at a “viva” on October 16, 1983. The school did not explain why the viva was held on a Sunday and has not named the thesis examiners who passed Tsai. A Freedom of Information request to the parent University of London led to a six-week internal review which concluded the public was not entitled to know the identity of the thesis examiners as the information was considered to be part of a student record.
In defending the privacy exemption, Roselind Frendo, Secretary to the Board, failed to cite any precedent of support for the decision to avoid public disclosure of the thesis examiners’ identities. Frendo wrote, “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.”
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, has made her career one of public disclosure. Denham can be expected to give the University of London refusal to name the thesis examiners a hard look.
Some of Tsai’s academic critics back home in Taiwan speculate that the real reason the University of London has not named the thesis examiners is because they do not exist. It is hard to see how the identity of thesis examiners is different from teachers, advisers, and administrators in the University degree process, while the need for secrecy about Tsai’s examiners remains unexplained.