Thursday, August 27, 2009

Update: Doctorates sold in Germany

A reporter for the Frankfurter Rundschau has made it clear that the Cologne district attorney's office was a little imprecise in saying that 100 honorary professors were being investigated. What was meant was that over 100 "außerplanmäßige" Professors (apl. Prof.) are being looked into.

There is a difference. An honorary professorship is something like an honorary doctorate, only one step up the ladder. An apl. Prof. is one that is "outside of the plan". That means, they get to call themselves Professor, and they have to teach, but they don't necessarily get paid. Many of these people either have a German second doctorate (Habilitation) or they were so-called "Junior Professors" that got to be "real" professors straight from their doctorates for six years and then failed to find a job-for-life.

This introduces a strangeness to the cases. If tenured professors were to take a bribe, they are looking at fines, prison, and perhaps being stripped of their pension. But since these apl. Profs are not paid, there's not that much of a problem in them taking bribes.

So who is to blame? Well, what are these faculty boards and dissertation committee doing during their meetings about the dissertations? Did no one read and thoroughly research the work done? Did they just rubber stamp the proposals and hope that the meeting was over in time for dinner?

The hard part is: how do we get this sorted out? In Sweden it would be simple. All public service documents are in the public domain. Some reporter with time on hir hands would ask for the list and start making calls. In Germany we have "data privacy" laws that are very useful in situations like this. And since it is not the national government, but the individual states that run the universities, there are 16 "Kultusminister" or "Wissenschaftssenator" that have to check out their own house.

In a fantasy world, each state would request the list of their own institutions from Cologne and call in some university presidents for some hard discussions. They might even cut budgets from departments that granted degrees that show up on the list.

Oh, and there are apparently over 200 names on the list of grantees, just 100 apl. Profs. that participated. Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath.


  1. "there's not that much of a problem in them taking bribes."

    It is true that there is not the issue of "not doing their duty" or "getting paid twice", but the bribery is still a legal issue, and yes, they are to blame for it. The deal is: They do not have to accept or "supervise" students, but IF they do, they must apply professional standards, not standards aimed at maximizing their own profit.

  2. Jein. Applying professional standards is an ethical consideration, not a legal one. I personally have the expectation that anyone calling themselves a professor would apply professional standards. But we keep seeing a lot of non-professionalism out there.
    What on earth lies beneath the surface?

  3. "there's not that much of a problem in them taking bribes." outrageous, the issue here is always performance based and if they can be at par!


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