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German science minister loses PhD

Germany’s science minister Annette Schavan was stripped of her PhD title last night after her alma mater, the University of Düsseldorf, found evidence of “deliberate deception”.

The university’s faculty council announced its decision on 5 February based on an investigation of Schavan’s PhD, which was flagged up by an internet community to contain plagiarised material. “[The council] has made the decision to declare Frau Schavan’s written thesis as invalid, and to withdraw her PhD title,” the council said in a statement. They took the decision with 12 yes-votes, 2 no-votes, and one abstention.

Bruno Bleckmann, the dean of Düsseldorf’s philosophy faculty, said the council had checked Schavan’s PhD thesis over the past two weeks, and had found enough evidence of plagiarism to withdraw her title. A report by the university’s lawyer Stefan Rohrback, which leaked last October, showed incidents of plagiarism on 60 of Schavan’s thesis’ 351 pages.

The university rejected arguments from Schavan’s lawyers that citation standards were different in 1980, when Schavan handed in her thesis. “Standards for correct citation were the same then as now,” the university’s statement read. “The faculty is self-critical in admitting that there have been some cases where there have been deficits in the PhD supervision and evaluation of individuals.”

Schavan has not yet issued a comment on the situation, as she is in South Africa on an official visit. However, the German press has reported that her lawyers are planning to sue the university over the evaluation process.

It is uncertain how these developments will affect Schavan’s position as science and education minister, but it is unlikely that she will be able to stay in the post if she loses her case. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and a close friend of Schavan, has spoken out in support of her science minister.

However, with general elections looming for September, Merkel may be forced to look for another science minister in time for the votes.