The Information Commissioner’s Office of the United Kingdom will proceed with an investigation of the University of London over Tsai Ing-wen’s 1984 thesis examiners. The ICO recently issued a preliminary assessment of a complaint about the withholding of the examiners’ identities by the University, finding that Tsai Ing-wen may suffer “damage or distress” if the examiners were identified.
Last summer, Tsai belatedly filed her 1984 thesis with the London School of Economics Library, thirty-five years late. Briefly an issue in her recent reelection campaign, Tsai avoids talking about the controversial thesis entitled “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions.”
The tardy thesis caused a number of Taiwanese scholars to raise questions about the thesis and whether or not Tsai actually earned the degree bestowed upon her. Because LSE could not issue its own degrees, the University of London awarded a diploma on the recommendation of two thesis examiners, which the school now refuses to name.
Lead Case Officer Cressida Woodall initially suggested terminating the complaint because the ICO has previously declined to force graduate schools to name thesis examiners and the possibility of damage or distress to Tsai. However, Woodall has now renewed the ICO investigation after learning that LSE had disclosed the identity of other thesis examiners, thus creating a double standard for Tsai, the president of the Republic of China in-exile.
In 2011, LSE revealed the thesis examiners of Saif Gaddafi after it was learned that the Libyan student had to be privately tutored and the authorship of his thesis was called into question. The examiners, Meghnad Desai and Anthony McGrew, were named in the Woolf Inquiry Report, an independent investigation commissioned by LSE, into the circumstances of Gaddafi’s thesis and significant donations to LSE by the Libyan government headed by Saif’s father.
While the ICO probe will go forward, the Corona virus emergency will likely delay completion of the investigation. Woodall explains, “This will mean that the process of investigating your case further is likely to take considerably longer than usual and a formal decision notice may not be issued for some weeks after the investigation process has concluded.”
The effort to identify the thesis examiners began in September 2019 with a request to the London School of Economics. LSE declined to identify the examiners and said it was the University of London’s responsibility. The University refused to name the examiners, citing Tsai’s right to privacy. A six-week internal review upheld the disclosure exemption leading to the pending ICO complaint.
Tsai Ing-wen declines to name her thesis examiners keeping alive an ongoing controversy over her Ph.D. degree.