From the archive
Many jobs require such degrees in Germany, where, as is not the case in America, calling oneself doctor for having completed a thesis in, say, political science or art history, is not embarrassing but normal, even when filling out Lufthansa’s online booking forms. (The airline generously provides three levels of academic achievement for its overachieving countrymen: doctor, professor and professor doctor, skipping the extremely rare but not unheard-of German mouthful Herr Professor Doctor Doctor).
At the same time, however, Mr. Guttenberg’s troubles thrust into embarrassing national relief the dirty secret that to gain such credentials, many Germans, well-connected ones anyway, apparently cut corners or worse, and universities often look the other way. The minister couldn’t admit to having farmed out his dissertation, because that’s literally a crime here, but he was generally suspected of having hired someone to write the work for him (how else to explain why he seemed so blithely oblivious to the contents of his own thesis?). And to add insult to injury, his advisers had even awarded him a rank of “summa cum laude” (“Summa cum fraude” was another of those protesters’ placards), notwithstanding that the thesis seems to have poached material from one of those very advisers.
Eventually, Mr. Guttenberg had no choice. He admitted to “grave mistakes,” whatever that meant, and on March 1 resigned. “I was appointed not to be self-defense minister but defense minister,” he said, as he tried to finesse the crisis. As a dashing stroke of noblesse oblige before retreating, not to his castle in Franconia, but to his apartment in Berlin, he then promised to donate salary still owed to him in office to families of German soldiers fallen in Afghanistan.
Academic protesters and many on the left declared the resignation a victory for people power, intellectual standards and national honor. The Peter Lorre-like smile that video cameras captured on Ms. Merkel’s face when she got the news suggested more than relief.