In a move likely to have major political implications, the University of Düsseldorf has revoked the doctoral degree of Germany’s science and education minister, Annette Schavan.
A university committee yesterday evening confirmed accusations, first aired last May, of plagiarism in Schavan’s ethical-philosophical dissertation entitled ‘People and conscience — studies on the conditions, necessity and requirements for formation of conscience today’.
In her 1980 thesis, Schavan “systematically and deliberately claimed as her own intellectual achievements which she had in fact not produced herself,” said Bruno Bleckmann, dean of philosophy and chairman of the 15-head committee, in a statement. The committee voted with large majority that Schavan’s PhD degree should be withdrawn.
Schavan, who is now on an official visit in South Africa, has previously admitted “careless mistakes” in her thesis but rejects charges of deliberate deception and plagiarism. Her lawyers say they will challenge the university’s decision at court.
Schavan is the second minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet to fall from academic grace. Merkel’s former defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, resigned last year after the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate. Zu Guttenberg had plagiarized extended sections of his 2006 law thesis.
Zu Guttenberg’s case prompted plagiarism hunters to intensify their search for intellectual dishonesty in politicians’ academic past. Crowdsourcing efforts have since resulted in the formal withdrawal of the PhD degrees of Liberal Democrat European Parliament members Silvana-Koch Mehrin and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis.
Schavan will keep her PhD degree pending the outcome of a final court ruling. But in the current election year her case threatens to become a political burden for the ruling Christian Democrat–Liberal Democrat government coalition.
Merkel has so far stood up for her long-time science minister, one of her most loyal political allies. But pressure is mounting on Schavan to resign. “Schavan has lost all credibility as a science minister,” the Social Democrat’s secretary general, Andrea Nahles, said yesterday. Members of the Greens and the Left Party also called on Schavan to step down.