For some German politicians, this summer is bringing not only matters of meditation on preparing for the coming elections in September, or the need to address the home and foreign agenda, but also serious challenges for their careers. After the big scandal around the accusation of plagiarism against Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the then minister of Defense and a rising star of the German politics; other politicians, many representatives of the ‘’new generation,’’ are going through comparably embarrassing days.
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a leading name of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), author and vice-president of the European Parliament, was found guilty of plagiarism following an investigation by the University of Heidelberg. Koch-Mehrin held a Ph.D. in history coordinated by the then dean of the University. Although she recognized that her Ph.D. thesis “is not a masterpiece” she is more likely willing to appeal the decision of a special committee that identified in her paper sections taken from 30 other publications, two thirds of them not referred as such in the bibliography. The irony of fate: one day after the verdict, she was promoted into the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) of the European Parliament, but resigned following a public protest of the Alliance of German Scientific Organizations (Allianz der Wissenschaftsorganisationen – AdW). Members of the AdW are, among others, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, German Academic Exchange Service, Max Planck Society, and the German Research Foundation. She retired from all her academic and professional positions, but continues to keep her mandate in the European Parliament.
Koch-Mehrin’s colleague Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is in a similar situation. At his request, the University of Bonn identified more than 50% plagiarism in his Ph.D. thesis dealing with informational globalism and e-commerce. With a career in diplomacy and a visiting research fellowship at the University of Oxford under the auspices of Ralf Dahrendorf; Chatzimarkakis is also member of the European Parliament and is likely to continue his mandate.
And if this is not enough: Berndt Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, and president of the standing conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in Germany’s state governments – a body responsible also for policies in the area of higher education - quoted incorrectly several sources in his dissertation.
This year also brought bad news from the Christian Democrat MP Matthias Christoph Pröfrock who lost his doctorate by the University of Tübingen, but he refused to give up his position in the legislature.
Several cases yielded the same verdict and almost the same attitudes. With the exception of zu Guttenberg, the other politicians with problematic Ph.D.s decided to continue their political activities and careers. Academic status, in a country where status and professional qualifications matter so much, was once a key to political success. Now, some will continue their political careers as politicians and nothing other than politicians. Without being impressed by the political CVs of their subjects of their investigations, the academic commissions reevaluated the work and took away the titles conferred by the same universities. By their decisions, the academic institutions requested to the questionable academics to abstain from using as part of their political branding the symbolic capital acquired in and through the academy. This could be a warning and a guarantee that the integrity of academic institutions will be maintained on medium term, despite the (probably human) failures of the primary evaluation of the Ph.D. works. A politician without academic records could expect one day a return to the main political stage if his or her political activities reach certain levels of performance (we are talking now about efficiency, not ethics). Such a comeback for a university failing to conform to the highest levels of integrity is a matter of centuries.
To be continued.
Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.