(NY Times) In Germany, Uproar Over a Doctoral Thesis

While Americans have been obsessing lately about Charlie Sheen and his live-in porn film stars, Germany has been consumed by improprieties over a doctoral thesis.

All the German talk shows, the front pages of the country’s newspapers and magazines, its political pundits and comedians, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets or to the pages of Facebook, have had a field day indulging in very German-style hand-wringing and paroxysms of self-loathing over the moral, political and social ramifications of the case.

A German author, Peter Schneider, even gravely linked the whole mess to Bill Clinton’s impeachment drama, since they both entailed what he called “the same question of honesty.” Leave it to a German intellectual to discern a deep connection between an American president dissembling about oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office and a doctoral student at Bayreuth University cribbing passages in a 475-page dissertation about contrasting constitutional developments.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Books, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Theology

3 comments on “(NY Times) In Germany, Uproar Over a Doctoral Thesis

  1. kmh1 says:

    “…..skipping the extremely rare but not unheard-of German mouthful Herr Professor Doctor Doctor”
    – mis-spelled but I don’t think it’s that unusual – the Habilitationsschrift is the usual requirement for an academic post in Germany.
    But yes, imagine if MLK’s plagiarized thesis had been known about earlier….

  2. Will B says:

    Re: Martin Luther King’s “Palgiarized” Dissertation.
    When accusations were brought concerning MLK’s doctoral dissertation from Boston University, a panel of administrators and scholars was appinted to investigate the issue. The brief summary of their very lengthy and thorough investigation was that indeed, significant portions of MLK’s dissertation were direct quotations from Tillich’s Systematic Theology without attribution; that none of MLK’s readers caught or mentioned this; that MLK was already in the national spotlight with the emerging civil right movement and that he, MLK, was being pressured by his academic mentors to “hurry up” with the dissertation, which probably accounts in large part for the negligence on King’s and his doctoral committee’s part. The conclusion was that while MLK was guilty of sloppy scholarship, he was not guilty of deliberately attempting to deceive Boston University or anyone else. Hence to refer to MLK as a plagiarist is not entirely accurate. Indeed, King’s dissertation and the panel’s report are used often with doctoral students to point out the difference between plagiarism and sloppy scholarship, and as a reminder that in the computer age, with multiple programs to assist the writing and organization of a text, reference notes and bibliography, neither is to be tolerated.

  3. Dave C. says:

    Will B., I beg to differ. King definitely plagiarized portions of his dissertation. It’s true that the Boston U. panel did everything in its power to play down and minimize the plagiarism, and to their discredit did not take a stronger stand (of course to take a stronger stand would not only reflect on King but also the incompetence of his dissertation committee). Were his mistakes merely forgetting to credit quotes of Tillich, I would agree with you. But the most damning evidence is that he plagiarized another Boston U. dissertation on Tillich by a student named Jack Boozer. He lifted whole sentences of Boozer’s analysis of Tillich, usually with a few words changed, without attribution. And one member of his dissertation committee was also on Boozer’s. The man was either asleep at the switch or for some reason didn’t complain about obvious and repeated plagiarism. There is no credible way to imagine that this was merely an oversight or sloppiness on King’s part. The BU panel tries to absolve him by saying that Boozer was listed in the bibliography. But what of the numerous Boozer passages that were passed off as King’s own analysis?

    Unfortunately, there seem to be two primary views on King–one that does back flips to hide or excuse King’s obvious plagiarism–the other throws everything at the man–his womanizing, questions about his name and etc, and often ends up going beyond an objective analysis to the other extreme. It is true, though, that many who knew or should have known the extent of King’s plagiarism in the late 1980s / early 1990s outright lied to cover it up, or tried to quash any objective analysis of it, which is why the story first broke in England instead of the US. Here is one brief news story that alludes to some aspects of the plagiarism: