German minister to stop using doctor title in thesis flap

BERLIN (AP) — A prominent German government minister said Friday that she will stop using the academic title “doctor” after a Berlin university decided to revisit a controversy over plagiarism allegations involving her doctoral thesis.

Franziska Giffey, a center-left Social Democrat who has been widely expected to run in the election for Berlin mayor next year, has been the minister for women and families in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet since 2018.

Allegations of plagiarism prompted Berlin’s Free University to review Giffey’s 2010 dissertation on the policy of the European Union’s executive commission. Giffey said last year that she would resign from the government if her PhD was revoked. The university decided to issue a reprimand but not to revoke her title.

Last week, the university said it would reconsider the decision after an expert’s report raised questions about whether it was entitled only to issue a reprimand.

Giffey again stressed in a statement Friday that she had written the thesis in good faith. She cited the university’s original decision that described her work, despite some shortcomings, as an “independent academic effort” and concluded that revoking the doctorate would be disproportionate.

“I am not willing to continue allowing my dissertation, and the proceedings that have now been reopened, to be the object of political disputes,” Giffey said. She added that “to avert further damage to my family, my political work and my party,” she would stop using her academic title immediately.

“What I am and what I can do is not dependent on this title,” she said.

Giffey said she plans to stay in her ministerial post and to go ahead with running for the leadership of her party’s Berlin branch later this month.

Doctorates are highly prized in Germany and have caused senior politicians trouble before.

In 2011, then-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lost his doctorate and quit when it emerged that large parts of his thesis were not his original work. Two years later, then-Education Minister Annette Schavan resigned after a university withdrew her doctorate.

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