People & Business: Dons up in arms over new school

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The Independent Online
Spare a thought for Wafic Said, the Saudi businessman who has donated pounds 20m to Oxford University to found the Said Business School.

A meeting of the university's dons in the Sheldonian Theatre today will debate the proposed location of the new school. Mr Said was involved in the pounds 20bn Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but never received commission or payments.

A number of the academics are angry that the proposed school, housing 500 students and 150 MBAs, will be built on what little green land is left in the middle of the city. Others are not so sure about the study of business and note that the university has had to stump up pounds 18m itself for the school while the Bodleian Library is crying out for cash.

Alexander Murray, a mild-mannered medieval history don, will be the first to oppose the plan today. But he is at pains to stress that he admires the work of John Kay, currently the head of London Economics, the consultancy, who is due to head up the new school.

The point is that the land for the new building on Mansfield Road was sold to the university by Merton College in 1964 so it could be kept as playing fields. Mr Murray says the first thing the dons, who have ultimate power in the university, knew about the plan was when it was announced as a fait accompli in July.

"I would have thought that when establishing a business school, ethics are very important. There was an element of double dealing in the way the plan was announced, and damage to the environment here. I think this is distinctly off-side."

Will the dons humiliate Mr Said as they did Margaret Thatcher when they overturned her honorary degree in the late 1980s?

Nice to see the founder of the Independent's business section, Baroness Hogg, has notched up yet another job, this time non-executive director of GKN.

No doubt she will bring her customary efficiency to the new post. Having completed a five-year stint as head of the Downing Street Policy Unit in 1995, she is due to succeed John Kay as chairman of London Economics. She is a non-exec at the National Provident Institution and the Foreign and Colonial Smaller Companies Trust. She is also a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and the Councils of the Royal Economic Society and the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Makes me feel tired just typing it.

Who said analysts couldn't be bribed? At BT's merger extravaganza on Sunday, a euphoric Sir Peter Bonfield sealed a successful analysts' briefing by passing round the champagne. Hacks waiting in a scrum outside the door heard jubilant applause from the analysts as the bubbly was passed round. One said afterwards: "It was very good too. Nice and dry."

No doubt this was a stunt by BT's slick head of press, Ted (let's start the meal with a glass of champagne) Graham. Unfortunately it didn't wash with the suspicious hacks who, when offered the same bounty, turned up their noses.

Opra is about to launch in the UK. And we're not talking about the American talk show host. It stands for Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, a body which will go live in April 1997, designed to protect the interests of 10 million people in the UK's 200,000 occupational pensions schemes.

Caroline Johnson, chief executive of Opra, has appointed a number of people. Joe Robertson, previously a casework director for the Pensions Ombudsman, becomes regulatory director. He is joined by Roger Hills, formerly a detective chief superintendent. Opra says he "will be in charge of intelligence and heavy investigations". Cripes. You have been warned.

Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, has been commissioned to write a 14,000-word article on his ex-employer, Rupert Murdoch, for the American magazine Vanity Fair. The fee? $50,000.

But Mr Neil has already gone on about Mr Murdoch in his autobiography, Full Disclosure, which has not been published in the US. It shouldn't take too long to reproduce all the Murdoch bits for the mag. Not a bad for a couple of hours' work.

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