Academics attack Guttenberg over plagiarized thesis

Embattled Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg withstood harsh criticism in parliament at the end of the week for copying large sections of his doctoral thesis only to be further attacked by academics at the weekend.

Academics attack Guttenberg over plagiarized thesis
Photo: DPA

“The minister has lost his connection to reality,” said Oliver Lepsius, the successor to his professor at Bayreuth University.

“We have been taken in by a con artist. It is a unique audacity with which he hoodwinked honoured people of the university.”

He said Guttenberg had “systematically and methodically” pulled together scientific sources to plagiarize, and then said he did not know what he was doing.

“This is where the political dimension of the scandal lies,” said Lepsius.

Guttenberg admitted having made grave mistakes in his dissertation, saying he was under enormous pressure as a father and member of parliament during the years he was working for it. Yet he maintains he did not deliberately copy anything.

He has stopped using his Dr. title, and the university has stripped him of it.

Also at the weekend, the former president of the German Research Society, Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker warned against dismissing the affair as unimportant.

“We academics cannot lock anyone up, only a judge can do that. But the punishment of academia is that one stands in the pillory forever,” he told Der Spiegel magazine.

“People who do this are done for in academia,” he said, suggesting that the minister should consider “whether he can still stand in front of his soldiers or in front of students of the Bundeswehr schools and talk of values.”

Several respected lawyers have expressed their doubts that Guttenberg could have accidentally copied as much of his thesis as he claims.

“I would not believe a candidate who, in such a case, claimed it was just negligence,” Cologne law professor Thomas Weigend told Der Spiegel.

“No judge would believe a candidate who had copied more than a hundred pages of his doctorate and then claimed he had done so by mistake,” said fellow layer Michael Hofferbert, who specializes in conflicts over examination papers.

Although Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far stood by Guttenberg, Saxony-Anhalt state premier Wolfgang Böhmer became one of the most senior conservatives to doubt whether he could stay in office.

He wondered how long Guttenberg, who is a member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, would be able to take the pressure.

“There will always be people who will enjoy making allegations about the mistakes in his doctorate in public,” he told the Berlin paper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag.

“I don’t know how long he will be able to take this.”

Guttenberg’s star with Merkel could more likely be tarnished by what a report said she regarded as an “only very rudimentary and poorly-considered basis for decisions about reform of the Bundeswehr.”

Der Spiegel reported at the weekend that criticism of his work at the Defence Ministry from the Chancellery was much harsher than previously thought.


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Germany’s centre-right CDU to elect new leadership by end of the year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party will elect its new leadership by the year's end, general secretary Paul Ziemiak said Monday, detailing plans for a clean slate after a disastrous election that the party lost to the Social Democrats.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In power for 16 years under Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union is grappling with its deepest crisis in decades after turning in a historic low score in September’s election.

Its leader Armin Laschet last week signalled his readiness to step aside, setting the ball rolling for renewal at the top.

READ ALSO: Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as CDU leader

Ziemiak said a date for the congress to determine the new makeup of the party’s top brass as well as how rank and file members can participate in the leadership selection process will be announced on November 2nd.

But the party’s leaders “today agreed unanimously that we will elect a completely new executive board,” he said, adding that in terms of the calendar, the “window for this is year’s end”.

Bild daily had reported that the party has made a tentative booking for December 6th-13th in Dresden for its possible congress.

READ ALSO: Germany edges a step closer to a government led by Social Democrats

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected head of the CDU in January.

For some time, he was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after running four consecutive coalitions.

But his party’s ratings began to slide as he committed a series of gaffes, including being caught on camera laughing in the background during a solemn tribute to flood victims.

With the CDU’s ratings plunging, Merkel tried to boost Laschet’s campaign with joint appearances, but was unable to help the conservatives pull off a win on election day.