German education minister stripped of PhD for plagiarism

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 Annette Schavan
Berlin, Feb 6: The University of Dusseldorf on Tuesday announced its decision to withdraw the doctorate degree of German Education Minister Annette Schavan after an investigation into the minister's 1980 dissertation for plagiarism.

Schavan is now faced with the prospect of losing her position on Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet. This is not the first time that a German cabinet minister is resigning after losing a doctor title. Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stepped down in the spring of 2011 after it was determined that he had plagiarised large sections of his Ph.D. thesis. Already, demands have been made for Schavan to resign from the Greens, the Left Party and the Pirate Party. Ironically, Schavan herself was an outspoken critic of Guttenberg's academic failings.

The decision to withdraw the degree was made after a six-hour closed-door meeting of a committee consisting of eight professors, two academic and two non-academic staff and three students, who voted with 12 in favour, two against and one abstention.

Schavan has previously insisted that the "baseless" accusations that she had falsely quoted and failed to source parts of her thesis, entitled "Person and Conscience", would be refuted.

But the committee found the 57-year-old minister to have "systematically and deliberately feigned and cheated in the intellectual attainment", according to Bruno Bleckmann, dean of the faculty at the University of Dusseldorf.

Based on an internal university analysis of Schavan's doctoral thesis, which she submitted in 1980, and on her own statement regarding her work, the committee voted 12 to 2 to invalidate her academic title.

Allegations that parts of her dissertation were not consistent with academic standards were first raised last spring and were hardened in October when a blogger released detailed findings of citation shortcomings he had found in the education minister's dissertation. She has consistently denied the charges, admitting merely to "oversights."

Schavan's argument was that conventions regarding citations were different at the time when she wrote her dissertation. However, the university said that the board's decision was not a "projection of today's standards back in time." It was pointed out that even at the time there were "accepted guidelines" that explained how to correctly cite passages taken from elsewhere. One version of those guidelines had even been published by her Ph.D. advisor, it was recently revealed

Meanwhile, Schavan's lawyer has released a statement indicating that the minister planned to file a legal challenge to the revocation of her dissertation at a Düsseldorf court. "There was no cheating involved," the statement read. Schavan's lawyers argue that the entire process was "error ridden" and "materially illegal." They claim that the extent of the erroneously cited passages does not justify the revocation of the minister's doctor title.

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