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The credentialling sector strikes back

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday March 2, 2011 10:50 PM

So the Wunderkindverteidigungsminister has had to resign -- because he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation!

Of course I'm not sorry to see him go -- he seemed like an awful person. And if Angela Merkel ends up with egg on her brutish face over the affair, that's okay too.

But still -- because he cheated in school?! Good Lord, what's the world coming to? Where I come from, cheating in school was a badge of honor, and rightly so. I myself was subjected to a ritualistic, fetishistic ceremony of corporal punishment for the crime of cheating in school -- more than once, too -- and my status rose considerably as a result. To this day I consider the chaféd glutei an excellent investment in peer-group cred.

Admittedly, it's hard to understand why the Tabloid Baron would have to cheat. The great scholar's dissertation was apparently on the subject of "the development of constitutional law in the U.S. and European Union," a topic on which surely one could blow a few hundred pages of smoke in one's sleep; it's right up there with "pagan and Christian elements in Beowulf". But the aristocracy aren't used to doing their own banal daily scut-work -- the Baron, like Auden's Mozart, has probably never had to make his own bed.

There was a droll piece about the whole affair in the Wall Street Journal:

The baron's defense—he claimed he had written his thesis in good faith, lifting hundreds of prose passages from other authors only by "mistake"—outraged middle-class university graduates, who dominate Germany's establishment.

"The literate bourgeoisie, who have worked hard to pass exams, were not amused," said Gerd Langguth, a politics professor and member of Ms. Merkel's right-leaning Christian Democratic Union.

In contrast, mass-circulation tabloid Bild-Zeitung said "to hell with the doctorate," and its readers overwhelmingly backed him in a phone-in poll....

But after Ms. Merkel quipped last week that she had hired a defense minister, "not a research assistant," tens of thousands of academics and students signed an online letter accusing the chancellor of making a mockery of scholarly values.

A mockery of scholarly values! No, you idiots, that dissertation's topic was the mockery of scholarly values. By giving degrees for horseshit like that -- really, it's down at the level of Melissa Huffle-Puffle or a "studies" major -- you've forfeited any respect that might have ever accrued to "scholarship", as currently defined by the diploma industry.

And oh, the pathos of these "middle-class Uni grads" and their prized sheepskins. These people need to get out more.

The whole business is much like a Preston Sturges movie; every little twist and turn is a delight. There's this, for instance, from the WSJ piece mentioned above:

The minister's doctoral supervisor, law professor emeritus Peter Häberle, on Monday turned on his former student, saying: "The shortcomings—unimaginable to me—that have been discovered in Mr. zu Guttenberg's dissertation are grave and unacceptable."
Hmm. Unimaginable, is it, sehr geehrter Herr Doktor Professor? Considering that most of your student's plagiaries came from newspapers -- newspapers! -- and other well-known "scholars" in the "field" of "political science", should we not be surprised -- rhetorical question alert -- that you didn't notice them?

Rhetorical answer: no we should not. If you actually read the Baron's indigestible tome -- much less the work of your dreary colleagues, or horrors, the newspapers -- then you'd be utterly unworthy of the otium cum dignitate that comes with a tenured professorship -- a German tenured professorship, forsooth, at -- wait for it -- the University of Bayreuth!

(Do the frat boys there all aspire to date Wagnerian sopranos, or Heldentenori, as their predilections may dictate?)

But leave it to the Times -- in the link referenced up top -- to furrow the brow and strike the proper note of concern:

Because of the way the ministries are divided among the conservative bloc, analysts said the new defense minister would come from the Christian Social Union, though it has few known experts in military, security and foreign affairs.
My own initial response to this dire prospect was: well, good. Lord save us from the experts. But then I had a second thought. Wouldn't a crafty non-expert be a much better "defense" minister than a credentialled expert mired in the stultification that only an empty degree can confer? And would I rather the Germans had a clever and capable wildcard Minister of War -- let's call it what it is -- than a respectable dolt with a poli-sci doctorate from a "good" university?

To ask the question is to answer it. Bring on the experts. And this time, Angela, get somebody from Heidelberg or Tubingen, not a frat boy from... Bayreuth! Because the rest of the world, which has a longer memory than you may think, would much prefer to see a thorough, reliably certificated dullard in charge of the Bundeswehr, than somebody who might have actually gotten in under the radar.

Comments (5)



HAHAHA = "pagan and Christian elements in Beowulf"
I did that one! Like three times.

Um. If you have to "work hard to pass exams," maybe you should consider another line of enquiry. Or maybe German exams are a lot harder?

The "Bilding" of this guy's reputation was certainly frustrating to many, but I have no more sympathy for loyal FAZ readers than I do people who think that Maddow is some kind of bulwark against FOX.

Unlike you, almost no one commented on the fact that his doctoral father probably didn't even read the piece of shit, which managed some'll cum loudly, no less.

Kerstin Decker did a good job here making a mockery of the entire mess here (German):

Hey! Now can you tell us about Saif Gaddafi's PhD from the LSE????


Cheating was wonderfully common in my high school, and it actually revealed some of the best of human traits. Some of my intrepid clasmates would risk expulsion to steal a test, then make sure to share it with a study group made of up less brave souls like myself. There was also a remarkable willingness on the part of kids who knew the answers to reveal them, through some kind of code during the test, to those of us who didn't. It was the antithesis of hyper-competitve individualism. It was decency and generosity, and at no small risk. It was "from each...to each..."

My, how everything good and compassionate gets demonized, condemned, and snuffed out.

Michael Hureaux:

In 1979, I attend the Ron Bailie School of Broadcast, memorized test formula, and took a test which was proctored by the FCC. I scored 80 per cent, and was awarded a First Class Radiotelephonics Engineers License. Within the day, not only would I have not recognized the need for an inductance formula, I wouldn't have known how to apply it in varied circumstances. But I still had a First Class license, which, according to its provisions, licensed me to work as a broadcast station engineer, or even an air traffic controller had I so wished at the time.

How's that for rigour and discipline?

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