Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dissertation revoked at the University of Dortmund, Germany

The German newspaper FAZ reports on October 20/21 2007 in an article by Sebastian Balzter "Aus der Praxis der Plagiatoren" on a case I have been following for a full two years now.

Julia Kleinhaus (a pseudonym) wrote her Diploma-Thesis in 1999 at the business department of the University of Dortmund. She handed in the 300 page treatise on a diskette, as requested by her advisor, who was working on his dissertation. Many years later she happened upon the guy's dissertation, and was shocked to find that the first 200 pages or so were exactly her pages - at times with the typographical errors intact. Only minor changes had been made (renumbering diagrams, occasional paragraphs thrown in). She wrote to me to ask what she should do.

I advised her to follow the rules laid down about 10 years ago by the German research foundation, DFG. She filed a formal complaint with the university ombudsman. She soon began to get anonymous, threatening emails. She informed the police, but they are so busy in Germany looking for terrorists and what not that nothing happened. She changed her e-mail address and was eventually invited to a hearing, almost a year after her complaint.

Another year passed before she finally learned (and this only because the reporter put the thumbscrews on the university, apparently) that the dissertation had been revoked. But the plagiarist - who is currently enjoying his title somewhere out there in the German industrial landscape where such a title brings a lot of status - is taking the university to court.

The bizarre thing is that the court will not have to decide upon whether or not a plagiarism occurred. That should be clear to anyone who even just glances at the two works. No, he is suing the university in the hopes that they made some sort of error during the process of revoking the dissertation, so that he can then keep the title, as it would then have been wrongly revoked. Universities often lose court cases like this in Germany, because someone along the line always makes an error, and highly-paid lawyers can often find out what it was.

I find it distasteful that it takes over two years to investigate this. I find it disgusting that a so blatant plagiarist can take the university to court and be judged not on the content, but only on the process. Why can't someone explain to this man why he is not worthy of the title he uses? And why can't the university grant this woman a doctorate? Not an honorary doctorate, but a real one. She did the work, she should get the honors.

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