The Students' Union of the London School of Economics has attacked the LSE's acceptance of a £2.5 million donation which will entail the naming of a new lecture theatre after the late ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Harvard University refused a similar donation in 2004 due to the alleged ties of the Sheikh Zayed Centre to antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
The Centre is understood to have sponsored lectures and publications on Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories.
In 2004, Harvard returned $2.5 million it received from Sheikh Zayed, after it emerged that his Zayed International Centre for Co-ordination had sponsored lectures and publications claiming that Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust and that the US military had carried out the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The LSE and the UAE's current ruler, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, signed an agreement in December 2006 to create a new Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the university.
The Centre has not yet been set up. But a few weeks ago, it was announced that the main lecture theatre, in the LSE's new academic building opening this month, will be named after Sheikh Abdullah's father, the late Sheikh Zayed, who died in 2004. This is in return for a donation of £2.5 million that is expected to cover about 20 per cent of the costs of the new building.
The plan was discovered by the LSE's student union a few weeks ago. The union's executive committee this week condemned the decision to accept the donation, saying that "to accept a donation from a state with such a well-documented history of human-rights abuses is simply unacceptable. Further, to name a new lecture theatre after a dead dictator with suspected links to Holocaust denial and antisemitism is completely beyond the pale."
A student statement notes that the LSE had a surplus of £26 million last year. The union insists: "Students have a right to know why an institution with a Centre for the Study of Human Rights was willing to accept this money. The School should rename the lecture theatre immediately and return all donations received from the Emirates Foundation [the body through which the donation was made]."
Aled Dilwyn Fisher, secretary-general of the union, said: "We think that it's very controversial to name a theatre after such a country's ruler. There doesn't seem to have been a vetting process."
Communications officer Dan Sheldon, who initially brought the matter to the union's notice, said: "We understand that the chancellors are very worried about this and that it might ruin their fundraising efforts, but we just don't believe they should be accepting such donations."
Mr Sheldon was active last year in pro-Israel advocacy on campus. Joseph Brown, the union's anti-racism officer, who worked for the Palestine Society on campus, supported the condemnation, saying: "This is a valuable human-rights campaign. Regardless of our differences on other issues, taking money from such a source is an abomination on another level."
No-one at the LSE was available for comment. But its director, Howard Davies, was quoted in the union's newspaper, The Beaver, as saying that, in the 21 months since the agreement between LSE and the UAE was announced, they had not received any objections of any kind, and that other academic institutions, such as Johns Hopkins University, had accepted donations and named centres after Sheikh Zayed.