Yet another senior German politician is the focus of questions about his doctoral thesis. Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony's Minister of Cultural Affairs, is alleged to have quoted incorrectly several sources in his dissertation, creating the impression that he originated more of the content than was actually the case.
Althusmann has admitted to "technical mistakes", for which he has also apologised. But the University of Potsdam, where he did his doctorate, intends to examine the issue, which was revealed by Die Zeit. The politician is alleged to have been negligent and committed major violations of academic rules.
He has joined at least three other political figures to be caught up in the ongoing controversy over doctoral plagiarism in Germany.
Earlier this year former minister of defence Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg was stripped of his doctoral title and resigned after large chunks of his thesis were found to be plagiarised, and recently Silvana Koch-Mehrin resigned as Vice-President of the European Parliament following PhD plagiarism allegations.
Meanwhile in Baden-Württemberg, Christian Democrat Member of Parliament Matthias Pröfrock has been stripped of his doctoral title by the University of Tübingen. Pröfrock has apologised for plagiarisms but has refused to resign from his seat.
The latest politician accused, Althusmann, is also president of the Kultusministerkonferenz, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in Germany's state governments. This body is among other things responsible for formulating and representing common issues of the states in the field of higher education.
It is claimed that unlike in other recent cases of plagiarism, notably the one concerning former Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Althusmann did not simply lift passages without referring to authors but created the impression of generating new ideas by incorrectly citing quotes and indicating paraphrases. These irregularities are alleged to have occurred on 88 pages out of 114 examined in the thesis.
Althusmann denies deliberate wrongdoing. "There was no attempted deceit on my part," he said, adding that he saw no reason to step down from office.
Faulty citing is also at the centre of another ongoing case of alleged plagiarism concerning Free Democrat Jorgo Chatzimarkakis and being reviewed by the University of Bonn.
Speaking on television in a recent talk show, Chatzimarkakis claimed that his way of citing might have appeared unusual because he had studied at Oxford University, where different practices were applied. This was promptly refuted by another member of the talk show panel, also a former Oxford student.
Munich law scholar Volker Rieble called references to technical mistakes a "standard excuse". In his opinion, Althusmann acted with willful intent, given that his wrong style of citing persisted throughout his entire thesis. "A doctoral candidate could hardly be stupid enough not to know how to quote properly from sources," Rieble said.
Manuel René Theisen, author of a standard reference on academic work, said: "Anyone omitting inverted commas in a direct quote is attempting to present the work of others as his own."
Marget Wintermantel, President of the Rectors' Conference, representing the heads of higher education institutions, said: "If the aim is merely to obtain the title, a candidate might be more tempted to ignore the rules".
She argued that it was therefore important for doctoral candidates working outside the university and possibly alongside their main career to be intensively supervised and integrated in the faculty. Wintermantel stressed the high value attributed to a doctoral title in Germany in particular, given that it should always represent progress in academic disciplines.
The opposition Social Democrats in Lower Saxony have demanded that Althusmann hold his office as president of the KMK in abeyance pending the results of investigations in Potsdam. Opposition Green politicians claim that Althusmann would be untenable as a minister should the allegations prove true.
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