The Guttenberg Affair: the Real Problem

Some historians deserve a box on the ear

Some scholars deserve a box on the ear

Some time ago, it was shown that the German minister of Defence, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, had copied parts of his doctoral thesis. Plagiarism. At first, he pretended that it was just an accident. When nobody believed this, the University of Bayreuth revoked his doctorate. Guttenberg resigned as minister. Now, the university has published the results of an investigation; it was not an accident, Guttenberg had “hat absichtlich getäuscht“, cheated willingly.

But wait a second. An academic degree is awarded by someone else. In this case, by a professor named Peter Häberle, who judged that Guttenberg’s thesis deserved a “summa cum laude”. The German article I linked to, tells that the university investigators believe that Häberle was not coresponsible (“Eine Mitverantwortung von Guttenbergs Doktorvater Peter Häberle … erkannte die Universität nicht.”)

I don’t understand this. Either Mr Häberle knew about the plagiarism, or he didn’t. If he knew, he was coresponsible, and measures should be taken. Since the report denies this, we are left with the alternative: he was unaware that there was something wrong. In that case, he is unable to evaluate the originality of claims made in his own field of research, and must give up his doctorate as well.

Interestingly, the English version of the article says that “the full 40-page report on the case … is also expected to also criticize Guttenberg’s doctoral supervisor.” This directly contradicts the German version of the article. I hope that the English version is correct – otherwise, we have additional evidence that our universities are no longer what we expect them to be.

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