Despite a public announcement upholding the award of a PhD degree to Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen, the London School of Economics and Political Science is “unclear” and “cannot be sure” of the identity of the examiners who purportedly approved her 1983 thesis. Louise Nadal, Secretary of the LSE Board, announced the school’s uncertainty after conducting a second internal review of Tsai’s student file.
Previously, LSE “Head of Legal Team” Kevin Haynes identified Michael Elliott, Tsai’s LSE advisor, and Leonard Leigh, a LSE professor, as Tsai’s thesis examiners. However, Haynes was corrected by his subordinate, Rachael Maguire, the LSE Information Manager. Maguire doubts the accuracy of her boss saying that Haynes conducted a “hurried view” of Tsai’s student file. Now Nadal supports the statement of Maguire over that of Haynes.
“You stated that the School is required to confirm or deny whether the information is held. As you will be aware from the School’s response to the Information Commissioner earlier this year and from which you quoted in your internal review request, the position is unclear. In the absence of certainty that information is accurate, the School cannot be sure whether it is held.”
The school’s uncertainty has not stopped them from declaring President Tsai’s degree valid, making a special public announcement confirming the validity of the PhD award. The reason for the special announcement was caused by the controversy that arose when Tsai filed a tardy thesis entitled Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions with the LSE Library in June 2019, thirty-five years late. Tsai refuses to release the viva report of the examiners although she has bragged that they were so impressed they told her she deserved a degree and a half.
Nadal said not only was the school uncertain of who President Tsai’s examiners were but that whoever they were, they needed to be protected from a hostile campaign.
“You have argued in your request for an internal review that the public interest outweighs the need to keep this information confidential. I have considered this carefully. You have expressed scepticism that the disclosure of the identity of the examiners would result in them being subject to ‘immense pressure’ and have cited an example of a previously provided name as evidence that this would not be the case. While I appreciate the level of public interest in this case, I am less convinced that your scepticism is well placed. The volume of enquiries and correspondence the School has received on this matter in recent years, often of a hostile nature, does not persuade me that any disclosure would prevent those named from being subject to similar attention as part of a campaign.”
One of the reasons for the internal review was the pronouncement by Rachael Maguire that the examiners’ identity was kept secret to prevent them from being pressured to change marks. The internal review was to examine the mark-changing pressure from a distance of thirty-nine years later but Nadal says the passage of time does not matter.
“I note that you are not persuaded by the School’s explanation that the names of examiners are kept confidential to prevent pressure from being applied to alter marks. While this is a principle which you consider inapplicable to this matter, it remains the case that examiners have a reasonable expectation that their identity will not being [sic] disclosed to students or others. This principle applies irrespective of the time which has elapsed since the examining work was undertaken and whether they have signed a contract to undertake the work of examining.”
“I have therefore assessed whether the decision to exempt this information on the grounds of it being personal data is reasonable as this is a qualified exemption. In reaching this decision I have taken account of the fact that to disclose any information relating to the identity of the examiners has the potential to breach the first data protection principle regarding fairness and could cause them damage or distress. I do not believe that any data subject in this position would consider it fair or reasonable to release information about them. In this particular case, I agree that as the viva took place almost 40 years ago, the issue of applying pressure to individuals with the purpose of changing marks is less of an issue. However, the principle of maintaining anonymity remains.”
“You have also compared the School’s response adversely to that of the University of Oxford, suggesting it does not reflect a modern approach. I do not think the two cases bear any particularly close similarity – at the University of Oxford, the student claimed an award which does not reflect that given and the University provided a formal clarification. In the case of Tsai Ing-wen, the University of London has not issued any correction or statement questioning the nature of the award made.”
“On balance I feel the exemption applied by the School is justified on the basis that the public interest in making this information available is outweighed by the disclosure being to the potential detriment of the individuals concerned.”
Nadal said quite a bit more in this internal review than she did in her first one in May 2021. At that time Nadal denied the LSE held any examiner information. Nadal’s newest internal review was conducted subsequent to order by Information Review Tribunal Judge Allison McKenna. The judge found that Nadal was in error and that the LSE actually had names of three possible examiners. Judge McKenna ordered the LSE to reconsider the Freedom of Information request for the examiner identity. The next step will be a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office where there are already a half-dozen pending complaints from various members of the public concerning President Tsai’s thesis.