Politician stumbles over lost test papers

A leading North Rhine-Westphalian politician has been caught up in a scandal over a botched-up seminar test. Christian Democrat Armin Laschet failed to observe correct procedures for test papers as a visiting lecturer at RWTH Aachen University.

Laschet, who has held seminars as a visiting lecturer at RWTH Aachen University in North Rhine-Westphalia, or NRW, for the past 16 years, became NRW Christian Democrat party chairman and faction leader in 2012. He seeks to run for NRW government leader in the next elections.

Last year, he took a group of 30 students to Berlin to focus on unified Germany’s European policy. The students then sat a written test on the topic.

The papers were subsequently checked and marked by Laschet and his assistant and then sent to the university. It seems that at some point they went missing. Laschet explained that they were not sent as registered mail and that he failed to request an inquiry to establish their whereabouts.

Instead, he consulted his own notes to reconstruct the marks he had chosen, claiming later on that he believed this was an appropriate solution. Given that several months had passed since the seminar had been held, the students could hardly be expected to rewrite the test.

Only ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ marks were given, also to one student who had not even handed in a paper, while another student who had written the test got no mark at all. Students in Aachen are now speaking of Laschet “playing dice” to establish the marks.

“This is all rather unfortunate, but we have to find out what really happened,” Laschet commented on the recent lapse, and insisted that he had only used the notes taken by himself and his assistant. He also offered that the test be rewritten on 2 June. The three students who accepted the opportunity had not even taken part in the first test.

Laschet also stressed that he had informed the head of the study programme concerned, Johanna Holst, about the whole procedure via email, claiming that the email message itself was proof of this.

However, he has so far refused to disclose the entire text of the email, while Holst explains that she was not aware that Laschet had based the marks solely on the notes he had taken. Had she known this the test would have been declared null and void.

Christine Roll, dean of the faculty of philosophy at RWTH Aachen University, speaks of “unsatisfactory documentation”, but suggests that the crucial arrangements could have been made merely by word of mouth.


Laschet has since resigned as a visiting lecturer, conceding that it had been a mistake not to hand in the test papers personally, and stating that “with such problems occurring at the interface between politics and science, I will not carry on”.

“This is a first-class scandal,” says Norbert Römer, faction leader of the Social Democrats in NRW, who runs a coalition government there with the Green Party. “Laschet is fiddling the students he has been entrusted to supervise. He has damaged the good reputation of an institution in an unprecedented manner.”

The test paper affair could put a damper on Laschet’s political ambitions. “Such behaviour is unacceptable for a government leader,” Römer comments.

Michael Gardner Email: