Social Democrat Franziska Giffey, who herself requested the audit of her PhD thesis, looked set to remain family minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition Cabinet after Berlin’s Free University (FU) cleared her of plagiarism charges Wednesday.
Accused of plagiarism in February, Giffey, 41, had indicated that she would resign from her Cabinet post if she were found to have copied scholarly excerpts without attribution.
Read more: Why politicians are tempted to obtain PhDs
She also decided not to include herself in the race to lead the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Withdrawal not justified
On Wednesday, the FU’s presidium ruled unanimously that Giffey could keep her PhD in political science, adding that issues identified in her dissertation did not justify withdrawing the title.
Giffey, whose paper examined the European Commission’s civil society participation policy, had insisted that her research paper, done between 2005 and 2009, was submitted in “good faith.”
A blog, VroniPlag, had accused Giffey of “careless” referencing.
The FU found that Giffey’s study contributed significantly to research findings on EU politics and that the problematic text passages lay largely in the chapter stating definitions.
Germany has witnessed two spectacular academic downfalls of past Merkel Cabinet members and several embarrassing checks of past studies from public figures.
In 2011, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — then prominent in the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian party allied with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) — resigned when the University of Bayreuth withdrew his title. He later decided against a political comeback bid.
In 2013, Education Minister Annette Schavan quit her post after the University of Düsseldorf found plagiarism in her 1980 dissertation. Germany’s top administrative court later rejected her appeal.
Schavan went to be Germany’s ambassador to the Vatican — until 2018.
Ursula von der Leyen, the designated European Commission president and until recently Germany’s defense minister, was cleared in 2016.
The Hanover Medical School had found mistakes in her dissertation on obstetrics but not “purposeful wrongdoing.”
On Wednesday, Giffey thanked the FU presidium for its “detailed examination” of her thesis, adding that she would proceed as federal family minister with “great dedication and much joy.”
ipj/mkg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)