German education minister loses Ph.D. over plagiarized thesis

German education minister Annette Schavan arrives for a German government cabinet meeting on January 23 in Berlin, Germany.

Story highlights

  • The university had awarded her the doctorate in 1980 with highest honors
  • She is the second minister who is accused of plagiarism
  • The German education minister has given no signal she will step down
  • She is planning to sue the university

Her doctoral thesis dealt with how we form our conscience. Turns out she plagiarized chunks of it.

A university stripped Germany's education minister of her Ph.D. on Tuesday, after a blogger caught the plagiarism and spent months vigilantly presenting the evidence to the public.

Annette Schavan is the second minister in conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet who has this embarrassing distinction.

Former defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stepped down in May 2011, after large passages of his dissertation were found to have been directly copied from other sources.

At the time, Schavan sharply criticized Guttenberg publicly for his shortcomings, according to German media reports.

Since April 2012, the blog "schavanplag" (for "Schavan" and "plagiarism") has compared passages of Schavan's 1980 dissertation with sections of written works by other authors -- in multiple instances they match word for word, or nearly.

The blog alleges Schavan did not properly source her work and claimed others' work as her own.

Schavan, who studied education, philosophy and Catholic theology, received her doctorate with highest honors, including for the verbal section of her dissertation. She has spent her career in education roles in the Catholic church.

She denies wrongdoing and plans to sue the University of Dusseldorf for invalidating her degree, according to her lawyers.

She has been fighting the blog's allegations in public for months and has given no signs of stepping down as education minister.

The board of the department that awarded her the degree said that there are just too many borrowed passages in her dissertation entitled: "People and Conscience -- studies on the foundations, necessity and challenges in forming a conscience in our time."

The board found that she had "systematically and deliberately laid claim to intellectual achievements, which she in reality did not produce herself."

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