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Education Minister: I didn't copy my thesis
Photo: DPA

Education Minister: I didn't copy my thesis

Published: 15 Oct 2012 09:49 GMT+02:00
Updated: 15 Oct 2012 09:49 GMT+02:00

Education Minister Annette Schavan has reacted angrily to accusations from the University of Düsseldorf that she plagiarised her doctoral thesis, which she wrote in 1980. "I won't accept that," she said.

Schavan said she would make a statement on the accusations soon, after having kept a "determined silence" as they gathered momentum over the past five months.

"I at no time attempted to deceive while working on my dissertation," she told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

She said that she "couldn't remember details" after 30 years, but she never consciously gave a wrong source in the work.

Accusations of plagiarism were first published anonymously on the blog schavanplag.wordpress at the beginning of May, when the university announced it would be carrying out an investigation.

Reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and Der Spiegel magazine published over the weekend said the university's appraisal found "characteristic signs of a plagiaristic method" in Schavan's work. Altogether, passages on 60 of the dissertation's 351 pages were found to be questionable.

It remains unclear whether the minister will lose her doctor title - the decision is expected to be made in the coming days.

Schavan, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) criticized the university for releasing details of its assessment to the media.

"It's notable that a confidential assessment of a professor should be available to the press before the person affected knows of its existence," he said. She said she was only sent the 75-page assessment after she requested it.

The opposition has already brought up the question of her possible resignation. Social Democratic Party politician Ernst Dieter Rossmann told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that Schavan should resign if she were to be stripped of her doctorate.

For the conservatives, the accusations are an unwelcome reminder of the 2011 plagiarism scandal that brought down the CSU's popular defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who was forced to resign when plagiarism in parts of his doctoral dissertation was uncovered.

Prominent Free Democratic Party MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin was also forced to give up her political offices last May when plagiarism was uncovered in her PhD thesis.

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Your comments about this article

10:53 October 15, 2012 by bbcheen
This is a reflection on German universities if they didn't catch it the first time.
11:07 October 15, 2012 by lucksi
Makes me wonder if there were the same rules about copying the work of other people 32 years ago.

And hey, you can cheat without the internet too.
11:30 October 15, 2012 by Kennneth Ingle
Every case must be treated individually, in order not to blame someone falsely who has been truly honest, but how many German politicians really are? Promises are made and regularly broken. Large sums of money are moved abroad without any sign of bad conscience, if caught out those responsible cannot remember, or had a blackout! Corruption is hidden under a blanket of titles such as technical or financial advisor and highly paid side-jobs, in industry and commerce, which could not be carried out properly by somebody working full time in parliament, are claimed to have no influence on the policies made.

The national government of Germany may not be the worst in Europe, but it certainly needs a good clean-out. Titles and mandates which have been bought are not a sign of democracy. The question remains however, not only in this country: Is there anybody, who could be trusted to really represent the people, who would be ready to do so?
11:41 October 15, 2012 by lwexcel
This is one of the main reasons that German PhD programs although they require a good amount of research, hard work, and actually benefit those that take them seriously; rank so much lower than they should be. A doctors from Holland or Belgium would go much further for someone wishing to work outside of Germany.

To get rid of this issue, they should also go after the advising staff of the person that cheated. This would allow the system to regulate itself, nobody would risk their own prestige and hard work over looking the other way or not being thorough enough during the fact checking process.
12:10 October 15, 2012 by McM
This is indicative of slack university supervisors who are responsible for vetting a doctoral candidates work before it is submitted to the academic peer review for acceptance or rejection. If a doctorate work is accepted and it contains faults it is the supervisor/s and or slack academic peer review that has not done its job and returned the submission until it is absolutely correct. The candidate is not technically to blame if shoddy work is accepted. The candidate is in a learning process and should not be led to believe that the submission is sound if it is not.

Years later the blame gets shunted on to the award bearer and the slack faculties and academic review panels slink of into the shadows of the past. Another victim of poor university practice as I read the situation.
15:02 October 15, 2012 by bwjijsdtd
Who wants to wager that the statement she will give soon is something her lawyer cooked up ...
17:06 October 15, 2012 by schneebeck
It is a Ph. D. program, it isn't fifth grade and they are adults.

A Ph.D. student has already written numerous papers and probably a lesser thesis also. They already know the importance of proper citations.

They are absolutely responsible for giving credit where it is due and they have already been taught this. No Ph.D. student would argue otherwise (only the ones caught plagiarising).
20:03 October 15, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Someone who is always declaring he's no fool usually has his suspicions.
20:40 October 15, 2012 by Englishted
She can't be called cut and paste ,so what will it be?

Carbon copy kid.

Read the later part of the article neither one of those two was brought to court for fraud and Silvana Koch-Mehrin I believe is still a M.E.P. all she gave up was Chairwoman of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in May 2011 ,didn't even have the honesty to resign her seat.

Criminal behavior by top dogs and nothing ever done about it.
21:45 October 15, 2012 by zeddriver
@Englishted

Criminal? Immoral yes. But not a crime.

I would even go so far as to say that the course work before any thesis still has to be accomplished to the schools standards. So one would think that the knowledge needed for her line of work was there all along. I find the reaction to the recent thesis scandals rather odd. By the posts one would think that these people had been guilty of mass murder. The way i see it. It's 100% politicaly motivated. And has nothing to do with questioning their knowledge.
08:22 October 16, 2012 by JenDigs
I have to agree with lwexcel, McM & schneebeck... There needs to be an overhaul of the system to prevent this sort of thing... I have proofread 2 theses in the recent past (just for friends as another pair of eyes...) and the one thing I noticed is the simple regurgitation of information without original analysis of the information. I don't have enough background in either subject area or access to the sited documentation to know if there was actual plagiarization (& if there was, I am confident it was not intentional) but i feel it is harder to avoid when the education system relies so heavily on regurgitation of facts rather than critical thinking and inquiry...
15:58 October 16, 2012 by Karl_Berlin
I think someone mentioned it above: The real question is not what she is said to have done, but rather who instigated this/had it in for her politically.

Bit like the Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg story... their stupidity is not the real story (if they did in fact plagiarise - disclaimer), but who was/is to benefit from such revelations?
19:21 October 16, 2012 by Englishted
@ zeddriver

Theft is criminal, and what she did was thieve somebody else's work.

Because the German system chases illegal downloading so whats the difference apart from these politicians use the title Doctor to enhance their careers .

Further to my comment on Sylvana Koch-Mehrin.

Sylvana Koch-Mehrin was appointed as a full member to the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy of the Parliament. Who says crime doesn't pay.
09:28 October 17, 2012 by zeddriver
@Englishted

While you may be technically correct (In a German over the top anal retentive way)

It's not material theft in the classic sense. As in the downloading example. Just what is the copyright fee for having mentioned someones line in a thesis? Zero perhaps. As those mentioned in a thesis do not receive monies for the citation of their idea.

When you are at work in an electronics company and create a new circuit. Do you need to make footnote citations showing that the work you did was accomplished using Ohms law, Or Kirchhoff's law. No! Then I guess you need to be fired for theft. Even if you seek to patent a new circuit. You are not required to cite those people's (Ohm, Kirchoff) ideas. Does the knowledge that an electrical engineer have that also has a doctorate. Suddenly become null and void because they didn't cite someone's line.

The Euro crisis, The Middle East, Emigration, Terrorism. small potatoes. Who cares about that stuff. We need to investigate everyone with a Doctorate. Doesn't matter what it costs or that they have been doing a good job.

If a university looks at your thesis. Reviews and grades it, And consequently gives you a diploma. There really should be a statute of limitations. Or a review board to check into whether a thesis investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.
20:47 October 17, 2012 by parografik
Well said, schneebuck.

I think I understand the point you're making, zeddriver, concerning intellectual property, and the universal ownership of knowledge, but in this case, I think it does qualify as theft,. It is theft specifically because it is a paper meant to demonstrate the abilities of the doctoral candidate, not the originator of the initial ideas, and the initial author is not the one receiving the PHD.

Also, to measure of this demonstration, in addition to original thinking, is to demonstrate the ability to follow form and meet the standards. Citation is part of the form and lack of this element is traditionally cause for disqualification.
00:22 October 18, 2012 by zeddriver
@parografik

Ah! But what to do about it. I just think that to demand resignations and firings is a bit much. At a certain point in time I think one has to throw their hands in the air and ask. Are we really helping our selves. Especially when the "targeted" doctorate holder has had many (successful) years in their chosen field. It starts to look like a witch hunt based on political leanings.

Look at this case. It was an anonymous person that submitted the accusation 32 years later. He/She was digging into the past of this women for what reason. Civic concern? Can you imagine the social outcast never had sex geek of a person that suddenly out of the blue decided to thumb through 351 pages of a 32 year old thesis. But then. That's Germany.
09:47 October 26, 2012 by mitanni
""It's notable that a confidential assessment of a professor should be available to the press before the person affected knows of its existence," he said. She said she was only sent the 75-page assessment after she requested it."

I don't see what's so "notable" about it. You don't get first dibs or veto rights on what other people think or say about your academic work.

"Look at this case. It was an anonymous person that submitted the accusation 32 years later. He/She was digging into the past of this women for what reason. "

Their motivation or name is irrelevant. They may be doing it out of a personal grudge, because they don't like her politics, or because they don't like heir hairstyle, it doesn't matter.

"Especially when the "targeted" doctorate holder has had many (successful) years in their chosen field."

Then she will continue to be successful without her doctoral title, should she lose it. And perhaps some university will come around and give her an honorary one.

"I just think that to demand resignations and firings is a bit much."

Why shouldn't people "demand" it? It's certainly worth talking about. And others may disagree that the was "successful".
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