Tsai Ing-wen files lawsuit against two professors in London School of Economics thesis controversy
By Michael Richardson
September 6, 2019
Tsai Ing-wen, president of the Republic of China in-exile, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Ho De-fen, professor emeritus at National Taiwan University, and Hwan Lin, a professor at Belk College in North Carolina. The lawsuit is over recent remarks the two professors have made about Tsai’s 1984 doctoral thesis at the London School of Economics. According to the LSE Library, Tsai did not submit her thesis to the library as required when she graduated. Nagging questions about the missing thesis prompted Tsai to submit the thesis in 2019, thirty-five years late.
Hwan Lin, a respected scholar with impeccable academic credentials, traveled to London and reviewed Tsai’s thesis this summer. Upon his return Lin issued a fifty page report on his observations and findings. According to Lin, the faxed thesis appeared to be a draft version with missing pages, handwritten comments, and page numbers that did not match the table of contents. Lin’s report included copies of his email exchange with the university about the thesis.
Ho De-fen, upon reading Lin’s report, called a news conference and questioned the validity of Tsai’s doctorate. Ho’s statements triggered Tsai’s lawsuit. Tsai is represented by attorneys Lien Yuan-lung and Chang Jen-chih.
If Tsai thinks the litigation will quiet the storm she is mistaken. What has been largely an academic dispute has now been pushed to a new level and secrets of her student years will become the subject of discovery, interrogatories, and depositions. The Taipei Times is now following the controversy which was previously largely confined to social media.
Tsai has taken on a formidable adversary that can be expected to wage a vigorous defense. Ho is no newcomer to the political arena. In her younger days Ho was active with the Wild Lilies movement against authoritarianism. A vocal proponent of democracy, Ho was a founder of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights in 1999 and later helped form the Taiwan Media Watch Foundation.
In support of her lawsuit Tsai has released some of her student records that shed a little light on a mystery man, Michael Elliot. Now deceased, Elliot is unable to answer any questions about his role in the thesis writing. After Tsai belatedly submitted her thesis the LSE Library cataloged the entry and listed Elliot as a co-author. That catalog entry was changed a week later and dropped Elliot. In her acknowledgements section of the thesis Tsai referred to Elliot has her supervisor. However, Elloit lacked a doctorate and could not, under standard academic protocol, have been her faculty advisor unless the London School of Economics lowered the standards in Tsai’s case. In Tsai’s newly disclosed student records, professors Lazar and Elliot are listed as her advisers in 1981. Only Elliot is listed in 1982 and no one is identified as adviser in 1983. The records also suggest that Tsai changed her thesis title during her course of study.
The irregularities surrounding Tsai’s student days and remaining questions about the award of a diploma now put the London School of Economics on trial although not formally named as a party. The university’s practices surrounding foreign students are sure to be closely examined by the defense.
Tsai does have one advantage in the case, the ROC’s antiquated judicial system with its “dinosaur judges” and lack of jury trials. During the ROC occupation of Taiwan, since World War II, the judiciary was used to imprison thousands of political prisoners during the White Terror era. More recently the flaws in the legal system were on display in the corruption trial of Tsai’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian. Chen had his judge switched contrary to court rules, was subjected to midnight court sessions, was heckled by spectators in the court room, and the victim of perjured testimony by a star witness. More recently, the ROC prosecution of the leaders of an advocacy group, Taiwan Civil Government, were held incommunicado without bail for five months until the group bought a full page ad in the New York Times pleading for bail. The prosecution of TCG leaders for political fraud has been marred by supposed victims that deny their victim status and are not permitted to testify.
Taiwan’s longstanding unresolved sovereignty that leaves an exiled Chinese regime in control of the island has created a swamp of confusion often called a “strategic ambiguity” that puts a Chinese flag on Tsai’s desk. Tsai’s thesis controversy that she has chosen to take to court now leaves her dancing in a new quagmire of her own making.
Tsai Ing-wen thesis sets off academic firestorm of controversy over “fake news” versus censored truth
By Michael Richardson
August 30, 2019
Tsai Ing-wen, president of the Republic of China in-exile, once wrote a book that now she doesn’t want anybody to read. Tsai’s 1984 thesis for the London School of Economics entitled “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions” is on restricted status at the LSE Library. Filed thirty-five years late, the thesis is at the center of debate about Tsai’s scholarship and honesty.
Somehow, Tsai was able to obtain a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics despite not having filed her thesis with the LSE Library, as did the 105 other graduate students in her class. Researchers, wanting to know Tsai’s views, looked in vain for the thesis until finally the missing document attracted media attention in June 2019. Tsai’s supporters blamed London libraries, scanning backlogs, and catalog mistakes.
After it became clear Tsai did not submit her thesis as required she made a tardy submission by fax. Tsai also slapped a restricted access copyright limitation on the thesis preventing copying the document.
Professor Hwan Lin, a Taiwanese-American at Belk College in the United States, decided to do a little research himself and issued a fifty-page report on the history of the thesis, outlining a number of irregularities. Lin, who traveled to London and visited the LSE Library, found the faxed thesis to be a draft version with missing pages, page numbers that do not match the table of contents, and handwritten corrections.
In Taipei, Professor emeritus Ho De-fen of Taiwan National University picked up the quest for truth questioning the validity of Tsai’s doctorate. Tsai responded to the challenge almost immediately on her personal Facebook account and threatened Ho with legal action. Tsai called the questions about her thesis “fake news” and said Ho was “factually incorrect.”
In the midst of controversy over the thesis a mystery man has appeared, Michael Elliot. After Tsai faxed her copy of the thesis to the LSE Library in July the catalog entry was updated and listed Elliot as a co-author. That listing lasted about a week and then came down. Elliot, who now is deceased, was an instructor at the London School of Economics when Tsai was a graduate student. However, Elliot could not have been her faculty adviser as he lacked a Ph.D. If Elliot ghost-wrote the thesis, or co-authored, it will be difficult to determine what is his work and what contribution Tsai made to the paper. In the thesis Acknowledgments, which was retyped, Elliot is described as Tsai’s supervisor without further explanation.
Nothing has yet been made public about the identity of Tsai’s academic adviser, or the members of her oral exam panel. Tsai said in her Facebook statement, “In short, if I received my diploma, then I submitted my thesis.” Curiously, Tsai’s diploma is a modern re-issue, not the original award.
Tsai’s restriction on access of her thesis will keep critics from looking for plagiarism or other academic flaws but will do little to quiet the storm. This is not the first time Tsai has taken steps to silence public discussion about her thesis. Several years ago the ROC presidential office reached out to a California internet discussion group that was chatting about the thesis. Allen Kuo, the chat editor of BATA, has confirmed that the presidential office asked through an intermediary to end the discussion topic. Kuo was told the matter was personal not political and he then complied with the request. Chagrined, Kuo is now calling for an investigation of the thesis authenticity.