Talk about setting a bad precedent for German students, and a good one for independent blog journalism.
The country’s top educator faces being expelled from Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet after her alma mater revoked her Ph.D. on the basis of the cardinal sin of academic thesis writing: plagiarizing.
Education Minister Annette Schavan has been battling for more than a year allegations she paraphrased passages from other sources without proper citations for her 1980 dissertation, an obscure German language tract on the human conscience under the unsparing title “Person und Gewissen Studien zu Voraussetzungen Notwendigkeit und Erfordernissen heutiger Gewissensbildung.”
The minister has maintained all along that it was an oversight on her part. A statement issued by her lawyer after the University of Düsseldorf announced the revocation of her degree late Tuesday said she intends to appeal the decision, according to Der Spiegel magazine.
The university analyzed the 32-year-old paper after an anonymous blogger writing in German under the pseudonym Robert Schmidt at a Wordpress site titled schavanplag. In intricate detail the mysterious writer identified about 60 instances where Schavan used secondary source material without adhering to academic standards on citation.
If Schavan resigns from Merkel’s inner circle, it would be the second time in the chancellor’s administration that a minister had to step down due to alleged academic misconduct. Last year German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned following allegations he cribbed content for his Ph.D. thesis, titled “Verfassung und Verfassungsvertrag: Konstitutionelle Entwicklungsstufen in den USA und der EU.”
Schavan has spent the past couple of days in Pretoria as part of an official trip aimed at promoting sustainable development through cooperation between South Africa and Germany, a clear indication she intends not only to keep her job but to fight the university’s decisions to take away her academic credentials. So far, Merkel has kept quiet on any decision.