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Accused German science minister quits

Germany’s science and education minister, Annette Schavan, resigned on Saturday, four days after the University of Düsseldorf confirmed accusations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis and revoked her PhD degree.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has appointed as her successor Johanna Wanka, a Christian Democrat who previously acted as education minister in the state of Lower Saxony.

Schavan, 57, became federal science minister in 2005. During her term, she successfully defended federal science budgets from cuts. She also oversaw the Excellence Initiative, a multibillion-dollar competition among German universities for federal top-up funding, which gave a notable boost to research and recruitment at Germany’s best universities.

The University of Düsseldorf’s decision to strip her of her PhD degree, awarded in 1980 for an ethical–philosophical study on the formation of conscience, has been criticized by many as too harsh. Many say it is inappropriate. However, a university commission voted on 5 February that in her thesis Schavan systematically quoted the work of others without proper reference. Schavan said that she will challenge the decision in court.

But she will not sit out the case as a minister. At a press conference on 9 February, she said she will resign from her post to protect the office from dishonour. Merkel accepted her resignation “with a heavy heart” — they are well known to be personal friends. Schavan “has made her mark as the most acknowledged education expert in our country,” she said.

Schavan’s decision was also met with respect, and even regret, by the political opposition. Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel said that Schavan has been a “highly honourable and competent colleague”. Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a leading member of the Green Party, said that Schavan’s case is “in a sense tragic”.


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