University of London placed blame for Tsai Ing-wen’s missing PhD thesis on librarians despite knowing since 2015 it never was received

Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen’s controversial PhD thesis was missing for 35 years until June 2019 (credit: Hwan Lin)

A series of emails from librarians and other school officials at the University of London, recently disclosed by a Freedom of Information request, revealed that the University first knew the 1983 PhD thesis of Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen was missing in 2011. The discovery that the dissertation was missing arose out of a search for the thesis triggered by Tsai’s candidacy for public office.

University of London officials never did find the thesis in its Senate House Library, however they located a computer “card output” for the thesis leading them to believe the library once had the thesis but somehow it went missing. However, the school officials were lax academic gatekeepers and they also made no effort to secure a copy for the collection of theses.

Four years later in 2015, another search was made for President Tsai’s thesis entitled Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions. As before, the search was made because of Tsai’s presidential campaign. And, as before, the thesis was never found. This time a deeper search was made and instead of relying on a “card output” to verify that the thesis made it to the shelves, a librarian went into storage and discovered a notation the “card output” did not have. “However, we do have an old card catalogue covering theses from the 1980s and there is a card for this one which indicates we were due to receive the thesis, but it never arrived.”

Curiously, despite Tsai’s election as president of the ROC, neither the officials of UL nor Senate House Library made any effort to obtain a copy of the phantom thesis.

Four years later (yes, there is a pattern here) in 2019, President Tsai’s reelection campaign triggered yet one more search at the University of London for the missing thesis. And, as before, the thesis was not to be found. Finally, the London School of Economics and Political Science, where Tsai took her classes, pressed President Tsai for a copy of the thesis. In June 2019, Tsai offered up an unbound document which appears to be a draft with pagination problems, footnote issues, and handwritten notations including a question mark.

A Freedom of Information request to learn who approved the thesis, the oral viva examiners, was denied by the UL citing President Tsai’s privacy. For her part, Tsai refuses to release the viva examination report. A complaint against UL to the Information Commissioner’s Office was also denied citing Tsai’s right to privacy, explaining that disclosure of the examiner identites might cause Tsai distress.

The UL told the ICO the thesis has been lost during restructuring at the Senate House Library sometime between the 1980s and 2010. Ignoring the more accurate deep search in 2015 that examined the catalog card, the UL assumed its erroneous 2011 claim of having but losing the thesis. “The original copy held by the University library was lost or mis-shelved sometime between mid‐1980s and 2010s over which period there were numerous structural changes to the library.”

The ICO accepted the false speculation as a factual assertion and did not investigate further landing the matter in court before the Information Review Tribunal. The UL false speculation was debunked by Judge Hazel Oliver who concluded after studying the matter that the blame did not belong to the librarians.

“Having viewed the emails from the libraries and the video from Dr. Peng, it does appear that none of the libraries have a record of the thesis being provided at the time the PhD was awarded in 1984. We accept that the explanation provided by the University that the thesis had been lost or mis-shelved may not be correct, as there is no catalogue or microfilm record of the original thesis.”

“A video of Dr. Peng conducting a search for President Tsai’s PhD thesis on the computer records of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) library, assisted by a member of the library staff….shows that they were unable to find a record of the thesis under President Tsai’s name or title of the thesis. The member of the staff says that if the thesis had gone missing it would be in the catalogue, and as it is not there suggests that the library had not received it.”

“As explained above, it does appear from the evidence that copies of the thesis may not have been provided to the libraries at the time by the examiners, rather than having been lost or mis-shelved.”

The Dr. Peng of Judge Oliver’s decision is Taiwan newsman Dennis Peng, himself a PhD. Peng, who hosts the popular YouTube program True Voice of Taiwan, is facing prosecution for criminal defamation for his news reports questioning President Tsai’s degree award. Tsai herself made the complaint to prosecutors making the case a priority matter. Peng, currently in the United States, faces arrest in Taiwan. Because the ROC lacks national sovereignty it has no extradiciton treaty with the United States so Peng is safe from arrests and continues to attract a world-wide audience to his daily news program

Now, with the new FOI email disclosure we know for sure the UL library never received the thesis and that school officials were aware in 2015 it was never received. So, was the false speculation blaming the librarians for losing the thesis, the result of negligence—ignoring the 2015 search? Or, was the false speculation intentional in an effort to deceive?

Sensitive to the bind it is in, the UL recently issued a public announcement reaffirming the legitimacy of President Tsai’s PhD degree and offering that no UL employee did anything improper in explaining the matter. “The University categorically denies any allegations of wrongdoing or falsehood made against any member of staff in relation to the search for copies of this thesis. All University of London staff who have handled enquiries related to this thesis have done so with the utmost integrity.”

Kit Good, the FOI officer at UL who made the false speculation blaming librarians, could not be reached for comment. Good has left the UL after eleven years on the job and does not respond to queries.

Such public deception, trying to blame the librarians, whether intentional or the result of a negligent search, does not enhance the reputation of the University of London. President Tsai could end the controversy that has dogged her and the UL for over two years by making public the viva report but for some inexplicable reason will not do so thus keeping the controversy alive.

Author: richardsonreports

Author of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story.

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