German education minister "Dr." Annette Schavan
THOSE OF US WHO always assumed that the German fixation on academic titles was based on a lie have been rubbing our hands ever since Baron “Dr.” Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg was revealed as an intellectual fake back in early 2011. After the once-celebrated “Black Baron” resigned as defense minister and embarked on a new career as an American “strategic studies” lecturer at various neoconservative think tanks, the number of top-level German politicans whose doctorates have ended up rolling in the gutters like so many toppled coronets has been legion: Aside from Guttenberg, European Parliament member Silvana Koch-Mehrin has been stripped of her honors, as have Bundestag members Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Bijan Djir-Sarai, and Uwe Brinkmann, along with liberal politician Margarita Mathiopolous and at least a half dozen other statesmen and journalists. The fact that most of these dilettante doctors are either immigrants or women trying to hammer out a career for themselves in an elitist white man’s world makes the whole story all the more poignant.
The latest victim is a mighty one indeed: Dr. Annette Schavan (57), who is no less than Germany’s education minister and thus the one person in the country who should take cheating seriously. Alas, it is not so: According to a commission set up by the University of Düsseldorf, which announced its findings today, Schavan’s 1980 dissertation on “Conscience and Person” is so full of stolen material that it displays a “deliberate intention to deceive” on the part of its author. As of today, those two priceless letters are no longer part of her name.
Perhaps one could be generous and look beyond Schavan’s dodgy diss if she had other academic laurels she could fall back on. But no: Taking advantage of an academic practice that has since fallen into obscurity, Schavan actually managed to earn a doctorate without doing anything at all besides cutting and pasting a “dissertation” – no BA, no MA, no term papers, no tedious lectures, no nothing besides a well-tempered Xerox machine, a pair of scissors, and a pot of paste. Now if you, like yours truly, came by your PhD the hard way, i.e. by actually writing the effing thing, you might agree with me that Schavan’s academic and later political career is nice work if you can get it.
Photogenic but still phony: European Parliament politician "Dr." Silvana Koch-Mehrin
Schavan is currently on a convenient state visit to South Africa, but she didn’t leave without announcing she would appeal her alma mater’s decision. If she ends up losing her challenge, her political head will likely roll in short order.
Now as someone who himself “holds” a PhD, but who works for a living in a business where no one gives a damn what he “holds” as long as he gets the work done competently, I must confess to considerable Schadenfreude over this latest victim of the German middle classes’ hangup about titles. I suppose this would once more be the correct place to pass on my wisdom to young students, namely that “footnotes are your friends” and so forth. But is this advice really helpful in a spiritual sense? Perhaps we’re going at this whole issue in an entirely misguided way. So this time I’d like to recall the Quaker George Fox’s advice to his friend William Penn, the later founder of Pennsylvania, regarding how much longer Penn – the aristocratic son of an admiral but by now a committed pacifist – should continue wearing his sword. “Wear it as long as thou canst,” Fox told him.
Think about it.