Controversial New Master arrives in Durham

JENNY DELL gives the new Castle Master a chance.

castle Gaddafi LSE Master

Castle Bar, a pretty politically apathetic sort of establishment, has recently being playing host to a quite a controversial figure. Throughout the first week of term, the new Castle master, Professor David Held, who took up the post this month, has been popping down to the Undercroft for a casual Smenergy…


OK, that’s not quite true, I think it was a glass of wine, but I now regret not serving him a more traditional Durham initiation.

The announcement of the appointment of Held at Durham last November attracted much media attention; The Guardian revealed the new master’s identity before the college itself had even been informed. Held, an expert in the field of international relations, was linked in March 2011 to the scandal surrounding LSE’s connections with the Libyan regime.


Held was closely acquainted with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was awarded his PhD from the university in 2008, and was a key figure in the arrangement of a £1.5 million donation from Saif’s own charitable foundation to the Centre for Global Governance, of which Held was chair.


Held has come under much criticism for the acceptance of a donation from someone so closely bound to Gaddafi’s dictatorship. The source of the money was not openly revealed to be Saif’s foundation, but instead was presented as a donation from public sources. 


The three companies, one Italian, one Turkish and one Scottish, were later exposed in Lord Woolf’s report into the controversy as having interests in construction and engineering projects in Libya, so despite assurances that the money was not coming from the Libyan government itself, it seems that it was in some way an attempt to gain favour with the Libyan dictator’s son to influence the awarding of these lucrative contracts.


But does this matter to us, students of Castle in some instances, students of the School of Politics and International Relations (where Held holds an academic post) in others, and all students of Durham University? I don’t think so.


The donation was never revealed to have had any influence on Saif’s PhD, and was actually arranged after he had been awarded the qualification (although the official graduation ceremony had not taken place), so in no way has Held’s integrity as a teaching academic been justified.


A quick library catalogue search reveals almost thirty titles with Held as author or editor: the opportunity to learn from someone clearly so influential in the development of political theory can only be an asset to our students.

In regard to the donation, I don’t think we can judge anyone too harshly for relations with the Libyan regime at a time when half the western world was jumping into bed with him: Blair, Bush, Barack, and the rest of the G8 with them.


Even though the source of the funds was dubious, they were being channeled into research and projects encouraging political reform in Northern Africa, encouraging freedom and democracy, a better use for Gaddafi’s cash than any I’m sure he could come up with.


Held was criticised by his LSE colleagues for being ‘emotionally connected to Saif’ as if this was some sort of great crime, but according to Held, Saif was ‘deeply committed to liberal democratic reform of his country.’


If Held was prepared to engage with a young man who could so easily have been written off as nothing but his father’s son, then think that reveals he is well suited to being a college master, prepared to treat people fairly and recognize their potential whatever their background.

So just like new Klute, let’s not make judgments before we’ve seen what’s on offer; maybe David Held can have his first Smen on me.