Schavan, who completed her dissertation in Düsseldorf in 1980, has long denied she failed to properly cite her sources.
But accusations of plagiarism began appearing on the blog schavanplag.wordpress last May, prompting the university to announce it would investigate. Passages on 60 of the dissertation’s 351 pages were found to be questionable. On Tuesday, university officials said they would open official proceedings against Schavan.
But the minister remained defiant on Wednesday: “I’m convinced these unfounded plagiarism charges will be disproved.”
However, the Christian Democratic politician could face a long wait to be cleared, as the university has not said how long the proceedings will take. A second sitting of the investigatory board has been scheduled for February 5.
Over the coming weeks, members of the faculty of philosophy will be “working intensively through documents from the PhD board and affected party’s statements,” to come to a decision.
Leading the group is Professor Bruno Bleckmann, who said on Wednesday that if the board decided to withdraw Schavan’s doctorate, she may chose to appeal at the Düsseldorf administrative court.
If her appeal were to fail there, Schavan could take the case higher to the administrative appeals court in Münster and in the last instance to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.
The Greens have called on her to resign should she lose her doctorate.
Beyond the embarrassment at having Germany’s top education official face charges of academic impropriety, it is not the first plagiarism case to hit Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
In 2011, her popular defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was forced to resign when it was uncovered he had copied large chunks of his doctoral dissertation.