Sunday, March 15, 2009

German University Takes Back Nine Doctorates

According to the German online magazine Spiegel Online, the University of Hanover has taken back nine doctorates in law which were granted between 1998 and 2005.

A law professor, Thomas A., from the university had taken in much money from lawyers and judges who wanted to have the coveted "Dr." to put in front of their names. Unlike the States, where the President, Vice President, and First Lady all have JD degrees but don't get called "Dr.", in Germany you can have the title put on your passport, bolted on your door, and make everyone call you "Dr. X".

At least eight lawyers (a number of them public servants and district attorneys) and one judge so desperately coveted that title - but didn't have the time to do the work - that they engaged a "doctoral consultant". They paid the company, in this case the "Institut für Wissenschaftsberatung" in Bergisch Gladbach, a fee, the company bribed the law professor, and they were soon awarded their degrees.

Fifty-nine more cases are pending.

Prof. A. took in over 150,000 Euros from candidates, receiving 2000 Euros for accepting a candidate and getting a bonus of 2000 Euros when it was completed. The potential doctors paid up to 25,000 Euros for their titles, for which there is normally no fee assessed.

A. was taken to court and found guilty of being bribed. He was sentenced to three years in prison, which is enough so that he loses his pension as well. The scam came to light as students requested in 2004 that A. not be on their examining committee because they did not want to appear to have purchased their grades. The university informed the legal authorities, who began an investigation. In September 2007 Prof. A. admitted to his deeds. During the court case in Hildesheim it was discovered that he not only took money, but also sexual favors for better grades.

The company is now bankrupt and the consultant, Martin D., has been in prison since the middle of last year on charges of bribery. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

The university decided to take back the nine doctorates, although most certainly most of the people involved will be taking the university to court on it - one has already filed, in the desperate hopes of overturning the university
decision on a technicality. Having to explain why the doctorate has suddenly disappeared might put a damper in one's career, although the person who had his doctorate taken back from the University of Tübingen on charges of blatant plagiarism has just gone to another university and taken a doctorate there. That university sees no problems with this.


  1. Spiegel Online and this Blog indulge in entertaining cases of misconduct that, no doubt, needs to be sanctioned. However, media mostly fail to see the real big picture and to recognize this “Doktorfabrik” incident is just another opportunity for universities, this time in Hanover, to distract public attention from seriously questionable institutional conduct (“Vorteilsnahme”).

    The German terminology „Drittmittel-Einwerbung“ indicates the method. Millions of Euros flow into universities, especially in applied sciences and engineering. Arranging contracts between industrial companies and institutes is common practice. But all too often a Dr. degree is promptly after contract signature awarded to the initiator in industry – as a bribery bonus from the grateful faculty. The system exploits the swamp of institutional corruption by an approach of “no Dr., then no industrial contract”, which works great behind the scene. There is no need for (external) bribing consultants who are taken to court – but serve as red herring allowing universities to show ethics and produce clean appearance.

    H.H. von Arnim (Hrsg.), ‘Korruption’, Knaur Verlag, is an eye-opening book describing institutional “ethics and moral”. Industry managers would be silly if not exploiting institutional realities for personal (Dr.) benefit – as long as media appear more childish than willing to dig to the bottom of the morass.

  2. Thank you for your comment! The problem is so often a case of proof. The media is often well aware of some of the things that are going on, but there must be public proof if there is to be any sanction.

    All too often I learn of shocking things that happen at universities, but the informant is reluctant (for divers and often good reasons) to go public with what they know.

    And you must not forget the so-called Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity". A university system has many pockets of the latter.

    The checks and balances that were designed for a small number of teachers and students just don't work for the exceedingly large institutions to be found in Germany today.

    But I am not absolving the universities of all blame. We must begin talking about academic integrity, and we need to begin yesterday.


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