Seeking to end international isolation and pursue limited reform, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and his son Saif drew British and American social scientists into a diplomatic and public relations project. Contracts with the Monitor Group (and Harvard faculty members) and the London School of Economics (where Saif Qaddafi also studied for a PhD and made a donation) were prominent. Libyan funds supported consultancies, visits, and training but, strikingly, not sustained, context-specific research. Both institutions were embarrassed when protests in Libya met with sharp repression and the country fell into civil war. Some critics wrongly conclude that academics should never work in countries with problematic political regimes. Analyzing the distinctive Libyan trajectory, this article stresses instead the need for careful organizational review, open debate, and clear emphasis on core academic missions as institutions and researchers seek to simultaneously have a public impact and secure needed funds.

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