Because according to the author, one Nicholas Kulish*, apparently it is in our “teutonic” character to be awed by people with degrees and titles and also feel the need to investigate plagiarizing politicians on the internet. Yes, I know that’s a contradiction, because if people were really that awed by academic degrees they wouldn’t question whether people came by them honestly.
Even worse, not just are Germans gaining more doctoral degrees per capita than most other nations (maybe because post graduate education is actually affordable in Germany, unlike the US), they also insist on using the title in public. And not just medical doctors either, but also people who “only” have PhDs. This alone illustrates that the author does not have either a PhD or indeed a doctorate of any kind, because if he had actually put in the work, he would certainly never dismiss the holder of a PhD or indeed any other doctorate than a medical one as “only”. As for why some people – though far from all – insist on using their title in everyday life, first of all, a doctorate or professorship is an official part of a person’s legal name in Germany and people do have the right (and indeed are required in some cases) to use their full legal name. Secondly, gaining a doctorate is a whole lot of work (unless you pull a Guttenberg) and if you did the work, why shouldn’t you have the right to be addressed by the title you gained? That said, a lot of people with doctorates (including those with medical doctorates) don’t insist in using the title in everyday life. And indeed, there is a saying that the more someone insists on being addressed as Dr. So-and-so, the less they actually did to gain that degree. Our political plagiarists would seem to prove that.
Now I don’t have a PhD (yet) and I certainly wouldn’t use it on plane tickets or hotel registration forms, because that’s unnecessary and only asking for trouble in the form of desperate flight attendants informing you that the gentleman in seat 7b has had a heart attack. But would I use it in a job application or when running for political office? You bet.
This brings us to the fact that a whole lot of German politicians, including most of the current cabinet, have advanced degrees and doctorates. For some reason, this seems to boggle American minds, which in turn boggles mine, because don’t Americans want politicians who are smart and educated? That said, looking at some of the American politicians who cropped up during the recent election season – you know, the sort who consider the Soviet Union a valid threat for the 21st century or displayed profound ignorance about human biology and reproduction – I guess the answer is “no”. Though if you looked at the US congress and cabinet, you’d probably find a whole lot of people with advanced degrees as well.
As for why it’s a big deal and indeed a resignation worthy scandal over here when politicians are found to have plagiarized their thesises, well, plagiarism is theft and fraud. And nobody wants thieves and frauds in political office, neither in he US nor in Germany. Going back to Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg for a moment, I don’t think anybody would have minded if the defense secretary had not had a doctorate, since a doctorate is not a prerequisite for being a good defense secretary. Military experience would probably matter more there. However, it does matter that the man plagiarized his thesis (or rather had someone plagiarize it for him) and even used parliamentary resources funded by tax payer money to generate reports to be plagiarize for his thesis. Because that is fraud. As for Annette Schavan, whose case is far less clear-cut, she was the secretary of science and education. Now unlike a secretary of defense, I would expect a secretary of science and education to actually hold an academic degree. And whether one thinks the decision to revoke Schavan’s doctorate was justified or not, a secretary of science and education who had her own doctorate revoked for plagiarism is just not acceptable, no more than a secretary of finance who was found guilty of tax evasion would be acceptable.
Indeed, I find it shocking that many Americans don’t view academic fraud as a valid reason for a politician to resign, but do think sleeping with someone other than the person they are married to or just twittering photos of rather unremarkable underwear is not just a reason to resign but a shocking scandal. In fact, I suspect that Americans would have completely understood if the secretary of the economy Rainer Brüderle had been forced to resign over making sexist remarks to a female journalist** (and indeed the New York Times was suitably outraged), but cannot understand that having her doctorate revoked over plagiarism allegations is a valid reason for the secretary of science and education to resign.
*Not the first dumb article by that person, I recently read another condescending and stupid article by the same author.
**I’m not defending Brüderle BTW. I do think that his remarks were typical of a certain creepy old man sexism that is still way too common and that the journalist was justified to call him out. I don’t, however, think those remarks are a reason to resign and neither does anybody else, not even the most ardent of feminists.