Fact: Germany's education minister, "Prof. Dr." Annette Schavan, plagiarized significant sections of her 1980 doctoral dissertation at the University in Düsseldorf. The documentation of her plagiarism is available online at the schvanplag Web site for anyone to see. The fact that Schavan, among other things, copied sections of Hannah Arendt's 1959 work The Human Condition without attribution would seem to disqualify her for a cabinet position in Berlin.
Fact: Schavan's thesis advisors and the faculty at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf failed to detect the plagiarism of Arendt and the numerous other sources. However, 33 years later, when confronted with the irrefutable evidence of plagiarism the university did the right thing and rescinded Schavan's doctorate.
Fact: Schavan was forced to resign her post, but intends to sue the university to win back her doctorate, despite the irrefutable evidence of her plagiarism. Her good friend, Dr. Angela Merkel, accepted Schavan's resignation reluctantly and "with a heavy heart."
Fact: Germany awards 25,000 doctorates each year, but only a small percentage of the recipients intend to pursue academic careers. The academic title seems to carry prestige in German business and politics, even though it is absurd to invest energy in writing a dissertation to pursue a career in an unrelated field. From the New York Times:
In many countries, busy professionals with little interest in tenure-track positions at universities do not tend to bother writing dissertations. In Germany, academic titles provide an ego boost that lures even businesspeople to pursue them.
Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff, a plagiarism expert at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and an active participant in VroniPlag, suggested getting rid of superfluous doctoral titles outside of academia. “A doctor only has meaning at a university or in academia,” she told German television. “It has no business on political placards.”
Wolfgang Münchau has an excellent column in Der Spiegel on "title inflation" in Germany: Die Teutonische Titel-Teuerung. Münchau points out that a dissertation should make an original contribution to the specific field, to advance the research. But that is too often not the case at German universities:
Bei einer Doktorarbeit würde man erwarten, dass da jemand etwas Neues entwickelt hat. Ein halbwegs kompetenter Doktorvater müsste sofort erkennen, ob hier etwas Neues entsteht oder nicht. Offensichtlich ist genau das aber zu selten der Fall.
(One might expect that someone has hit upon something new with a doctoral dissertation. Any half-way competent thesis advisor could determine whether the work contributes something new or not. But apparently that is all too often not the case.)
Münchau actually read the (plagiarized) dissertation of the "Cut-and-Paste" Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and found that it was nothing more than a long- a very long -"Spiegel column".
The "title fetish" problem in Germany will only change if 1) the universities tighten the requirements for the doctoral dissertation and insist on original scholarship and 2) industry recognizes and promotes talent based on performance instead of academic titles. But I don't expect things to change soon.