University strips German minister of his doctorate


THE GERMAN defence minister rejected opposition claims he was a “liar and a cheat” but has admitted writing an “obviously problematic” doctoral thesis.

But yesterday the minister’s alma mater, the University of Bayreuth, stripped him of his doctor title, five years after awarding it summa cum laude– the highest grade.

A week after the first claims were raised, the Bundestag debated yesterday the ballooning number of unreferenced sources in Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s 2006 thesis on US-EU constitutional history.

According to one co-operative online initiative, about a fifth of the minister’s 400-page text is derived from uncited sources.

“Plagiarism assumes that one has consciously and deliberately cheated, and I have said in all my statements that I neither consciously nor deliberately cheated, but that I did make grave mistakes,” said Mr zu Guttenberg (39).

“Obviously it was a very problematic doctoral thesis,” Mr zu Guttenberg said to catcalls from the opposition in yesterday’s parliamentary debate. “It was rash of me to think I could combine my political and my academic work. Clearly I was overloaded.”

As Germany’s most popular politician, Mr zu Guttenberg continues to enjoy the support of his colleagues in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) and its sister party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), headed by chancellor Angela Merkel. She has defended her minister, saying his doctoral title was irrelevant because she did not hire him as an academic research assistant.

That prompted a furious attack yesterday from Green Party parliamentary co-leader Jürgen Trittin.

“Then he can drink and drive, too, as she didn’t hire him as a driver,” he told the Bundestag. Comparing the minister to the conman Felix Krull, eponymous anti-hero of the Thomas Mann novel, he added: “We can’t have a Felix Krull in charge of the army; fire this man, madam chancellor.”

Opposition politicians attacked the minister for refusing to go into detail about how others’ texts landed “unconsciously” in his thesis. They argued that the minister’s credibility was damaged and that he was a poor moral example to German soldiers and students.

Social democrat Thomas Oppermann said it was unacceptable for a minister to have lifted texts from “politicians, historians, academics and students”.

“Every day new cases are coming to light and I find it unbearable that the chancellor has allowed an academic con-artist and liar to continue to remain in cabinet,” he said. “This thesis is, to a large extent, not your own work. You’ve deceived, you’ve cheated and you’ve lied.”