Saturday, March 22, 2008

Professor caught publishing student's paper

[Note: I am quoted in one of the articles below, so this may be construed as blatant self-promotion]

Spiegel-Online reporter Hermann Horstkotte reports on a professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Bonn who has been as harshly reprimanded as possible for publishing a paper from a student as his own back in 2001. For some strange reason he hired this student a few years after her graduation, and when she saw her own text on Danill Charms published in his name in a book published in honor of a colleague, she saw red and informed the university ombud for good scientific practice.

The university has taken away his privileges - he may no longer examine students, spend money (he'll have to run to the dean for every pencil he needs), or hire people. Since he only has a few years until retirement, this is practically early retirement with full pay, a rather bizarre punishment, but it makes sense within the German system of professorships, where a tenured professor cannot be fired short of being found guilty of committing a crime so bad the sentence is for 90 days or more of jail.

It takes just one Google search to find his name, and to find 260 publications listed. How many of them are plagiarisms, just this one? Why would someone in such a position do such a thing?

Horstkotte also has an article in the Rheinischer Merkur entitled "Sinners in Professoral Robes" (German professors used to wear robes up until the end of the 60s) in which he goes over a number of the juicier stories to hit the light of day in the past year or so. He quotes the organization of university professors in Germany, Deutschen Hochschulverband, insisting that cases involving ethics problems and dishonesty be publicly discussed. They promise to name names and to publicly denounce members who do not conduct themselves properly. It is to be hoped that this might actually happen, but don't hold your breath. In Germany there is a veil of secrecy wrapped around most of the cases of dishonesty that I have encountered in the past 6-7 years.


  1. Hm, I had though it was a year of jail. Are the 90 days "real" jail, or is "auf Bewaehrung" enough?

  2. It's 90 days of real jail or more than a year (that is, one year and one day or more) of probation.