Craig Calhoun's appointment will be soon followed by the publication of Lord Woolf's report on LSE's links with Libya. Photograph: James Barr for the Guardian
The US sociologist Craig Calhoun has been appointed as the new director of the London School of Economics, after its former head resigned over the university's links with Libya.
Calhoun succeeds Sir Howard Davies, who resigned in March over the decision to accept a £1.5m donation from a charity run by Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam.
Calhoun, who starts at LSE in September 2012, has been president of the Social Science Research Council in New York since 1999. He has a doctorate in history and sociology from Oxford and a master's in social anthropology from Manchester University.
With Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at LSE, he founded the NYLON programme, which brings together graduate students from New York and London for co-operative research programmes.
In his resignation letter, Davies said it was a "mistake" to accept a donation from the charity run by the former Libyan dictator's son. He also said he had made a personal error of judgment in accepting the British government's invitation to be an economic envoy to Libya.
Lord Woolf, a former lord chief justice, has completed an independent inquiry into the university's Libyan links, which is due to be published next week.
Calhoun warns of the compromising effect of private donations on academia in an essay on the clearance of protesters from parks and university campuses.
He writes: "University presidents are also tasked with raising money from wealthy donors. This isn't optional, partly because politicians have slashed public funding for higher education. Yet relying on private donations to make up the differences changes the character of universities. Among other things, it makes it less and less possible for them to offer public spaces for protest against the control of society by financial interests."
In the essay, Calhoun compares the eviction of protesters "in ostensibly democratic America" to the crackdown in Tiananmen Square. It is an episode of which he has personal experience. His book Neither Gods Nor Emperors features his own eyewitness account of the Chinese student revolt.
Alex Peters-Day, general secretary of the LSE students' union, welcomed the appointment. She said: "I think Craig Calhoun combines a strong academic background with demonstrable leadership and governance skills."
Peter Sutherland, chairman of LSE's court of governors, said: "Craig is an outstanding appointment – an intellectual completely at ease in public life whose career shows how academia is not aloof from society but embedded in it.
"He is also a vastly experienced leader of academic organisations, finding new ways of drawing out their inherent strengths and bringing their expertise to bear on society. I have no doubt LSE will thrive under his leadership."
The selection panel that appointed Calhoun included members of LSE's student body, faculty and governors.