In Germany a doctorate raises your salary 25% above those of others with similar jobs but no doctorate? Not only that. You also become an instant expert on everything – and I mean EVERYTHING. You’re the guarantee at the fund-raising gala dinner that the media will flock in and celebrities dip generously into their spending hearts; the flagship that corporate bosses will sponsor events; the juicy steak for talk masters who want you all over their shows even if all you have to do is froth at the mouth. In short, you’re a respected dignitary, a societal icon. The academic grade and official title (not the title you were born with) in front of your name is a coveted badge of distinction in German society.
In most African societies we call the corresponding people Wise Elders and their doctorate is handed to them around the time they’re at least sixty-five years old, and have thus earned it from The University of Life.
Well, one of my fellow citizens in Germany sought a title too many and lost a lot. Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, Germany’s ex defence minister, is a true-blue member of the German aristocracy. Even his wife, Stephanie Freifrau von und zu Guttenberg, is the great-great-granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s Chancellor in the Third Reich.
Guttenberg, 39, was a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU); of the Bundestag as a cabinet minister; of both the CSU executive and presidium of his party. Added to that, he was a county council member in Upper Franconia. Yours truly lives in Franconia which is in the State of Bavaria (but Franconians will kill you if you call them Bavarians – something to do with Napoleon and his numerous wars, but that’s the subject of another topic). Guttenberg was also the most popular politician in the country and was being touted as Chancellor Merkel’s successor.
In any case, the good baron had more than enough honorifics. Now Guttenberg has lost all that political high-flyer offices simply because he wanted a doctorate so desperately he plagiarised some 82% of his thesis for it, got the doctorate of law summa cum laude from the University of Bayreuth law faculty in 2007, only to be officially stripped of it in public by the university in 2011. As already mentioned, a PhD is something of de rigueur for any high level office in German politics and economy. So no wonder the man tried to wiggle out of his plagiarism with all manner of absurd excuses until he run out of them and/or the pressure on him became unbearable. Not only fellow politicians but also the academic masses and students still working on their doctorates rose up against “Baron zu Googleberg” and forced him to retreat back to his ancestral castle. The trouble is, the baron did his retreat in instalments. He first denied the charges of plagiarism, then said he might have overlooked giving due mention of some of his sources in footnotes, then he announced that he will “temporarily give up (his) doctor title” until the accusations are resolved.
On 1st March 2011, Guttenberg threw in the towel. He said in his resignation speech, “I was always ready to fight. But I have reached the limit of my resources.” Hopefully, Muammar al-Gaddafi heard this and has the grace of heart to heed it.