German education chief quits in plagiarism case
University withdraws doctorate of minister, who denies allegations
berlin — Germany’s education minister resigned Saturday after a university decided to withdraw her doctorate, finding that she had plagiarized parts of her thesis — an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s govern- ment as it prepares for elections later this year.
Merkel said she had accepted “only with a very heavy heart” the resignation of Annette Schavan, who has been her education and research minister since 2005 and was considered close to the chancellor.
Schavan’s resignation comes only two years after then-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lost his doctorate and resigned when it emerged that he had copied large parts of his doctoral thesis. Schavan said at the time she was “ashamed” of that scandal.
On Tuesday, an academic panel at Duesseldorf ’s Heinrich Heine University voted to revoke Schavan’s doctorate following a review of her 1980 thesis, which dealt with the formation of conscience. The review was undertaken after an anonymous blogger last year raised allegations of plagiarism, which the minister denies.
“I will not accept this decision and will file suit against it. I neither copied nor deceived in my dissertation,” she told reporters, speaking alongside Merkel at a brief news conference.
Schavan made clear that she was going to prevent the issue turning into a festering problem for her party, and the government, as Germany gears up for parliamentary elections Sept. 22 in which the conservative Merkel will seek a third term.
Schavan, 57, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said she had thought “thoroughly about the political consequences.”
“If a research minister files a suit against a university, that of course places strain on my office, the ministry, the government and the CDU as well,” she said. “And that is exactly what I want to avoid.”
Merkel praised Schavan’s “exceptional” performance as minister, adding that “at this time, she is putting her own personal wellbeing behind the common good.”
Schavan will be replaced by Johanna Wanka, 61, the outgoing regional education minister in the state of Lower Saxony, Merkel said.
Doctorates are highly prized in Germany, where it is not unusual for people to insist on being referred to by their full academic title. Reflecting that tradition, Merkel — herself a doctor, as are several of her senior ministers — referred to Schavan’s successor by her full academic title, “Professor Doctor Johanna Wanka.”