When initial accusations emerged in February that then-German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis, he responded that the allegations were "absurd." In the ensuing weeks, as it became increasingly clear that significant passages of his dissertation were exact replications of previously published works, he insisted that it was the result of mere oversight. He never meant to copy, he maintained.
But on Friday, the University of Bayreuth, which awarded Guttenberg his Ph.D. title in 2006, announced its conclusion that the former conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel had intentionally plagiarized. Guttenberg, the university said in a statement, "extensively violated academic standards and intentionally cheated."
It is a sentence which completes one of the most rapid and stunning political downfalls Germany has ever seen. Prior to the questions about his doctoral thesis, the member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, had been among the country's most popular politicians. Many had even tipped him as a possible successor to Merkel in the Chancellery. But in late February, the University of Bayreuth revoked his doctor title pending an investigation and on March 1, Guttenberg resigned from Merkel's cabinet. He went on to step down from all other political offices.
Initial questions about Guttenberg's dissertation, a comparative analysis of the development of constitutional law in the US and the European Union, were raised by Andreas Fischer-Lescano, a professor at the University of Bremen. Soon, however, hundreds of people began combing through the 475-page work looking for additional examples of plagiarism and assembling their findings on a webpage created for the purpose. Ultimately, it was found that well over half of the pages contained passages that had been reproduced one-to-one from outside sources.
Furthermore, German lawmakers were particularly outraged that several pages contained passages that had been produced by the German parliament's research service. Parliamentary rules forbid the private use of this service.
The university noted that several of the passages in question contained apparent efforts to cover his tracks. Individual words were changed, passages were reformulated and the order of sentences was changed. The university plans to present the complete 40-page report on Guttenberg's dissertation at a press conference next Wednesday.