In School in Germany: No Tailored Exams, Please!

Empty study corner at one of the German Hochschulen. Could tailored exams have something to do with that?

If there is a word of advice I could give to the teachers on the school and university level, speaking from my own experience as an English teacher, I would give them this one: Exams are no free tickets to success. Students have to pay for their ticket in order to pass. Exams are designed by the teacher with the goal of not only testing the students’ knowledge on a topic, but also to determine which areas the students need to improve on. From my standpoint, an exam is used to challenge the students- to get them to think outside the box and use the acquired knowledge in other ways and in their own words.

Sadly, looking at the exams today from a teacher’s point of view, as well as that of the students’, I see their value sliding down the mountain in a violent avalanche. And here’s a question and story to share with you as the reader:

 

First the question (and it is ok to post in the comment section and remain anonymous):

What was the weirdest exam you have ever taken in school or college? How was it structured? What about the content- was it relevant to what you learned? How were the questions formulated and how difficult were they?

 

While there were a couple instances where I formulated an exam where some sections were difficult to a point where I in the end had to throw the sections out and give the students some extra points (for the former students I taught English at the University of Bayreuth, you should have an idea what I’m referring to), as a student pursuing a teaching degree, I encountered an exam that was so bizarre, that even as a teacher would lose face if this was given in a lecture. This was known as the Tailored Exam.

 

The object of the tailored exam: a week before the exam, students get to choose a selected amount of questions to be inserted into the exam. These exam questions are based on the questions provided during the semester, sometimes in the PowerPoint presentations.  As soon as the questions are chosen, the students choose the point value for each question. This type of exam resembles ordering a meal deal at a fast food restaurant where you choose the burger as well as the size of French fries and soft drink you want.  And while this tailored exam does help the students narrow down the content needed to be studied before the exam (because the questions are already given, directing the students to the topics where they need to concentrate on), there are several drawbacks to this type of exam.

 

First of all, students have the tendency to select the easiest questions and reformulate them to their liking, thus leaving out the most relevant information needed for their studies, let alone their careers. This is similar to an exam for students of medicine, where a question on the different blood types outweighs the procedure to remove an inflamed appendix. Both are important, but if you don’t know how to conduct an appendectomy the proper way…… Taking the easiest way out through easy questions is delaying the inevitable, which is the real-time praxis. And if a person cannot handle the problems facing them in their profession, this shortcut will come back to haunt them.

Secondly, tailoring the exams to their needs will allow for a debate among the students as to which questions should be in and which ones are to be omitted- an argument that is a waste of time, especially if they need the time possible to prepare for the exam. And as for the teacher’s credibility….

Last but not least, while the teacher may find it easy to correct the exams, his/her credibility would vanish like water vaporizing from a pot at 200° Celsius, for students would dictate how the exam should be structured, and by allowing them to do this with the teacher’s consent, the authority to control the students’ wishes would be gone. And no matter how a teacher redeems him/herself (by adding trick questions or reformulating them to make them difficult for students to answer), his/her reputation would be lost for good. As a chain reaction, word about the tailored exam would spread, and the population of the student body would be divided up into those going to the teacher for an easy grade and those complaining about the fairness of the exam provided by the teacher and the institute he/she is employed at.  Not a way to end a working relationship between the university and the teacher should he/she decide to move on to another academic institution after two years or even retire.

In the 14+ years I have been teaching English, including seven at three different universities, I have found that the best way to win the hearts and minds of the students is to challenge their thinking but also be honest and fair to them. After all, as I have witnessed, students will best remember you for these characteristics in addition to your humor and creative ways to get them to listen. In the case of one of the universities I taught, I accumulated a vast number of student veterans- those visiting my classes semester after semester- as a result of this quality of teaching.  By having the students make the exam for the teacher, that teacher is diluting this quality of teaching that is badly needed in today’s schools and academic institutions. The end result is the teacher losing all the respect from the students and a career becoming short-lived.

There are many other variants of exams to give to the students, such as multiple choice, fill-in the blanks, short answer questions, essays and even the hybrid forms- the last of which I prefer. These plus a list of subjects students should expect to see in the exams will encourage them to go through the materials thoroughly and know the essentials. But tailored exams- the ones made (or should I say dictated by the students) is a no-go, unless you are a teacher wanting a quick exit from your career. But even then, there are other ways of getting out of it that are more honorable. It is also more honorable to challenge the brains of your students and get them to learn the most important things for their future careers.

So from the heart of this teacher to the hearts and creative minds of other teachers out there: No tailored exams, please! You will do yourself and your students a big favor and give education a better reputation.

 

Thank you and best of luck formulating your next exam, keeping this in mind.

Mr. Smith

 

Note: If you have some stories of exams that you wrote that were unorthodox but are considered useful for other teachers to use, or if you have some tips on how to create an exam that both the students as well as the teacher can benefit from, put your suggestions here in the comment section or send them to Jason Smith at the Files at: Flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. These ideas will be forwarded on in a different article as the Files continues to look at education in Germany vs. the US, based on the author’s experience as well as other factors influencing the educational landscape.  Thanks and looking forward to your ideas and thoughts. 

In School in Germany: English Exams

 

To start off this entry, here is a question for all educators teaching foreign languages: Does your school offer foreign language proficiency exams? If so, for which grades (Germ.: Klasse) and what do these exams consist of?  For those who do not have a foreign language exam, should schools offer it and if yes, for which foreign languages and why?

As part of the European Union, it is expected that students learn at least English and French in addition to their native language. Germany is no exception as the two languages are stressed in the classroom as early as possible. And with that, tests (sometimes with certificates) are administered to test the knowledge of the foreign language as well as the skills developed during their time in school and later in college- namely, listening, reading, oral, and written. Grammar serves as a bridge connecting these skills and is only taught and tested in the classroom.

I have had the privilege to participate in every single English proficiency exam, both as an administrator as well as an observer, looking at the degree of difficulty, the structure and other elements that are either beneficial or a setback to the success of the students. In other words, I have been around the block. For teachers who are about to enter the field of foreign languages at school or at the university, and for students who are going to school or to the university in Germany, here are the exams that you will most likely expect to face while in Germany. Please keep in mind, these exams are meant to foster the development of the students and are not meant to pass or fail them, yet there are some differences that you should keep in mind, speaking from experience.

Besondere Leistungsfeststellung (BLF):  This exam was introduced in 2004 in response to the massacre that had occurred at the Guttenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt two years earlier. There, the person instigating the shooting spree (where 16 people were killed before he took his own life), left school without a degree, one of many reasons for his revenge. The massacre resulted in massive reforms in the education system and with that, the introduction of stringent requirements, including the BLF Exam. This exam can be found in Thuringia, Hesse and Saxony, but will most likely be found in other German states in the future. The BLF applies to subjects in German, Math, Science and a Foreign Language, in particular, English.  Students in the tenth grade are required to take the BLF exam and have the entire year to prepare for it through classes and other work. This includes a year of intensive English classes, where they have the opportunity to focus on current events and cultural issues and improve on their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills.  When the exam occurs close to the end of the school year, students are assigned to their examiners, and the dates are chosen by the administrators. Most of the time, they will be assigned in groups of two or three and are given 30 minutes of preparation time before the exam, as they will be given a topic to do their presentation in. These topics are sometimes based on their preferences in the class, so one can expect a presentation on US culture-related themes, for example because of their preference.

The exam is orally based and consists of three parts: The first part is small talk, where the examiner asks the students some questions about school life, their future and their favorite interests. The second part features a presentation from each student of the group of 2-3, based on the topic given for preparing. And in the third part, the students are given a scene where they play out a scene. The exam takes 30 minutes and students are given a grade in the end. That grade will represent half of the total grade for the subject for that particular year.  Judging by the observations, students taking this exam are more flexible in the first part than in the rest as they have the ability to use the vocabulary and speak freely than in the other two parts. Most mistake-prone is in the second part with the presentations, where they are forced to stick to the topic and use the vocabulary pertaining to it. Add the grammar to that and for a tenth grader, it can be very difficult if there are some areas lacking.

 

Abitur English:  Going up a notch is the Abitur exam, taken by those in the 12th or 13th grade who are on their way out of the Gymnasium and heading to college or the real world. The oral portion exam is structured like the BLF- meaning three parts with one of the parts requiring  preparation time of 30 minutes before the time of the exam. In that part, the student is given a text to prepare. This usually goes first as a way of “dumping him/her into icy cold water.” Well, it is not that cruel, but the student has  to answer the (unexpected) questions provided by the examiner that have to coincide with the text to test the reading comprehension- and with own words.  The second and third parts of the exam comprises of conversation testing listening and oral skills, with the second part focusing on current events and the third part focusing on personal questions, etc. This includes future plans, high school life and other topics dealing with one’s life.  The grade of the oral exam is combined with the grade of the written exam, which is usually given prior to the oral part. Students have a chance to choose which subject to do the Abitur, yet the final grades will influence the decision of the universities in Germany to admit or reject the applications. In other words, be aware of the Numerus Clausus when you want to apply for a degree program at the university, for if you do not have a 1,3 or better, you may not be admitted to the program of your choice.  One more thing: The Abitur Exam means A-level exams in English and are applicable in Germany.

 

UNICERT:   Developed by the Technical University of Dresden, the UNICERT exam applies to college students studying in the field of business, sciences, law and humanities. Students can receive the certificate with the grade level of I-IV, pending on which university offers what level of UNICERT certificates and what level of difficulty for languages. That means level I applies to A-B1 language niveau according to the European Language Reference, whereas level IV is up to C2 level.  For example, the University of Bayreuth (Bavaria), where I taught English for a couple years offers UNICERT up to level four, whereas the University of Halle (Saxony-Anhalt) only offers UNICERT up to level two.  The UNICERT is perhaps one of the most rigorous of exams, for in order to receive a UNICERT Certificate, students not only have to attend certain numbers of accredited English classes and pass the courses, but as soon as they obtained enough credits for the UNICERT exams, they have to achieve the highest possible score for the four-part exam, each part featuring reading comprehension, listening comprehension, oral communication, and essay writing based on a given theme.  While both reading and listening feature questions to answer, in listening comprehension, you listen to the audio clip twice before answering the questions. In oral communication, the format is the same as in the Abitur and BLF Exams- 30 minutes of preparation time with a text with possible questions to be answered followed by 30 minutes of small talk, text questions and current event questions.  Speaking from experience, while students think the UNICERT is really difficult, the teachers find preparing each and every theme for the given parts to be really difficult, for the themes must fit to the students’ field of study as well as the current events, especially if the theme suggestions are rejected, altered or accepted with reservations by other members of the language institute. But that is a different topic to be saved for a lousy day of teaching.  UNICERT exams are found at many German universities, as well as those in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic, yet they are frowned upon as being insufficient for proof of language skills for the future jobs. That is why one will see UNICERT-accredited universities mostly in the southern half of Germany, as well as Saxony, Hesse and Berlin, but are rejected in the  northern half in states, like  Hamburg, Lower Saxony Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Schleswig-Holstein, cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, and at almost every technical university and university of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen).  But it does not mean that at these institutions where UNICERT does not exist that there are no exams to test the language proficiency of the students, as will be seen with the TOEIC.

 

TOEIC: TOEIC, which stands for the Test of International Communication is the most internationally recognized exam to be administered both in academia as well as in the business environment. It was first developed in the 1970s by the US-based Educational Testing Services and features two part: The Listening-Reading Test and the Speaking and Writing Test. The former features multiple choice questions and live conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds and speaking different dialects. The exam lasts 2 hours and a person can receive up to 900 points. The latter features 20 minutes of oral communication and 60 minutes of writing, and the person can receive up to 400 points. The exams are ordered by the institutions and as soon as the exams are completed, they are sent to the language testing center, where they are corrected and evaluated, and the certificates are sent to the institutions and/or examinees. Yet prior to the exam, preparation classes are required, where materials pertaining to TOEIC are used almost exclusively. One can present additional materials to class as long as they are relevant to the subjects that are covered for the exam. This makes the TOEIC the most centralized of exams and also the strictest, for guidelines must be met in order for the exam and the certificates to be valid. This is speaking from experience of a teacher who has a TOEIC Examiner License for over 4 years now.  Unlike UNICERT, teachers wanting to administer TOEIC must complete training at a language center and take some additional courses to update your knowledge of TOEIC. These can cost some money, but the training is worth it. TOEIC can be found at almost all the Fachhochschulen, universities that do not have UNICERT, and several business institutions. They are open for both students and adults alike, including those who are unemployed and are changing careers.

Note: TOEIC rivals the exams administered by Cambridge University and Trinity School of London as they follow similar guidelines, yet these exams can be found at the universities and institutions of continuing education (Volkshochschulen). More information about the TOEIC can be found here

 

So which exams are the toughest? Speaking from experience as a teacher, the exams can be compared to a flight of stairs a person has to go up in order to succeed. That means for students, the BLF is perhaps the easiest and the first step, whereas the UNICERT is the most difficult. Abitur and TOEIC are right in the middle. But this is in regards to the degree of difficulty that is expected. However, from the teacher’s point of view, the TOEIC is perhaps the easiest as there is little preparation time and the materials are provided. It is just a matter of following the units and ensure that you have an agenda to follow for the students in order to achieve the unit. The UNICERT is the most difficult for you need to develop the test and course curriculum yourself. While the course portion is not a problem if you are doing that individually and develop your own guidelines that fits the UNICERT requirements, when you work together with your colleagues at the university, you can run into several conflicts which can turn a harmonious relation into guerrilla warfare, which could make working together be a discord, and most times, the students taking the exam suffer in the end. But if asked which certificate would be most suitable for any job after school, then clearly the TOEIC would be the choice, for the Abitur is only a bridge to entering college and may be difficult to be accepted by the employer, and the UNICERT is restricted to Germany and the European stage.  But before proving your knowledge of a foreign language like English through certificates, it is best to work with the language so that you have enough confidence and skills mustered to pursue the Abitur, UNICERT or TOEIC. It is given that a proficiency exam, like the BLF will be given in the 10th grade. But for the others, the best way to master this success is interaction with others with native-speaker knowledge or even the native speaker him/herself. Sometimes a trip to that country for half a year will do the trick. 😉

 

What about other foreign language proficiency exams in the schools? Apart from BLF, what other exams exist in the German Bundesländern? Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page or send the author a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Don’t forget to share your thoughts about foreign language proficiency exams in the US, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

 

 

 

 

Flensburg Files News Flyer 29 November, 2011

It’s Christmas time and with that come the Christmas Markets, the Glühwein, the Presents, and lots of events that have been going on the last few days, which warrants the Flensburg Files News Flyer- designed to provide the readers with a chance to find out more on what is going on in Germany that is not normally seen in the media mainstream. Themes like this one may be of some interest to you:

 

Yes to Stuttgart 21

After five years of protests, legal action and campaigns which involved virtually everyone on all levels of government, the citizens of Stuttgart made their point clear at the polls on Sunday: they would like to finally go forward with Stuttgart 21 once and for all.  According to the final polls, over 48.2% of the people voted for the project, while 41.8% were against the project. That means the German Railways can proceed with the construction project, consisting of 20km of underground rail line with an underground central railway station located underneath the present-day railway station located above ground. When completed in 2021, the old railroad station, which currently sees 240,000 passengers going through every day, will be converted into residential areas, and thus will help ease the housing crisis the city has been seeing in the last decade. The project started in 2002, but was met with delays due to protests because of increasing costs of the project combined with concerns that the environmental surroundings combined with much of the city’s historic buildings would be destroyed in the process. The project has involved not only the local and state governments but even the federal government in Berlin, whose majority of the politicians favor the underground station. The prime minister of Baden-Wurttemberg Winfried Kretschmann was even against the project but favored a public referendum. While he has accepted the decision, it does not come with no strings attached- the costs for the project must be capped at 4.5 bn Euros ($5.1 bn).

Links: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/stuttgarteinundzwanzig100.html;

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15561178,00.html;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuttgart_21;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuttgart_Hauptbahnhof

 

http://www.bahnhof.de/site/bahnhoefe/de/sued/stuttgart__hbf/daten__und__fakten/daten__und__fakten__.html

Guttenberg pardoned for plagiarism; eyes comeback in 2013

In a decision which has raised eyebrows of many who question its legitimacy and morality, the prosecution has decided not to press charges against the former defense minister, Karl Theodore zu Guttenberg. While the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate title in March of this year because of the 23 passages he did not cite in his dissertation, the prosecution considered these counts a misdemeanor. That combined with his donation of 20,000 Euros (more than $26,000) to a charitable organization led to the decision of not starting the legal proceedings against him. Guttenberg is currently residing in the USA with his family, but is eyeing a political comeback in 2013, the same year as the federal elections in Germany. Whether it will help Angela Merkel in her bid to be reelected as German chancellor remains to be seen. But the public seems divided on his decision to return to politics; especially as many of his fellow colleagues from his own party, the Christian Socialist Union have been pursued for similar charges. More on this story will follow.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Theodor_zu_Guttenberg;

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15550956,00.html

 

Dynamo Dresden Mistreated by the German Soccer Federation for Hooligan Incident

Soccer coaches, sports experts and even directors of regional soccer leagues have been heatedly criticizing the DFB, the soccer federation in charge of the top three leagues in German soccer, for harshly punishing the soccer team that is currently playing in the second highest league (Zweitliga). The  federation recently sanctioned the team located in eastern Saxony by banning them from next year’s DFB soccer playoffs for allowing hooligans to be out of control during the playoff game against Borussia Dortmund, the game which the team lost. In addition, the team was also fined in the tens of thousands of Euros.  Many experts consider the punishment too harsh, yet problems involving hooligans and their actions during the soccer game; especially in the eastern part of Germany has resulted in harsher measures in an attempt to crack down and teach the teams a lesson on sportsmanship among players and fans. While fines and barring fans from attending games have been effective, this sanction, harsh or not, may be one of many measures that could be the norm in the future should the problem with hooligans persist, together with subtracting points off the standings board in soccer and possibly forcing the team to be relegated a league down, the latter of which has not happened just yet.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15506337,00.html

 

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15492412,00.html

http://www.dfb.de/index.php?id=503058&action=showSchema&lang=D&liga=dfbpokm&saison=11&saisonl=2011&spieltag=2&spielid=1011&cHash=cf8f91551a43c946258aad946166df0f

http://www.mdr.de/sport/fussball_bl/dynamo-reaktion100.html

 

Jena proving its reputation of being a cosmopolitan city

Located east of Erfurt and Weimar in eastern Thuringia, Jena is not only known for its optical industry (for it is home to Jenoptik and Carl Zeiss) but to the eyes of many foreigners (Americans included) the city of 120,000 inhabitants (20,000 being students) is known as the black hole- once you visit the city tucked away in the Saale River Valley, you do not want to leave. However according to the German public TV station ZDF in a recent documentary, the city is home to right-wing extremists; especially four terrorists who are in custody for 10 counts of murder of several foreigners and a police officer. In an interview with an author from Munich, who wrote a book on this topic, it was concluded that the university city is part of the fear zone, which has plagued the eastern half of the country, and a spawning point for potential neo-Nazis. This reportage has angered the city so much that a petition is being carried out demanding that ZDF retract its comments about Jena and apologize to the city or it is done for them by the German government, which owns the channel together with ARD. Furthermore, a concert to help the city fight right-wing extremism is taking place this Friday with many celebrities taking part, including Peter Maffay and Udo Lindenberg, where tens of thousands are expected to attend. The Flensburg Files will cover the topic of right-wing extremism in 2012 to determine which part of Germany is worse regarding neo-Nazis: the western or eastern parts of the country. While the eastern part of the country has seen its share of attacks committed by neo-Nazis, reports of the rise of neo-Nazis and attacks and parties have been reported in Bavaria and northern parts of the country in the past 2 years. Furthermore from the author’s experience living in Jena, the city has been more open to foreigners than in other cities its size in the eastern part of Germany and has zero tolerance to right-wing extremism. It even chased the neo-Nazis out of the city many times for trying to host the Festival of the People (Dt.: Fest der Völker), at least three times until the decision was made to host the event elsewhere in 2007.  And contrary to the pictures shown by the media, there are some bright spots to Jena that others do not see, some of which will be presented in photos when the Flensburg Files does a tour of the Christmas markets this year.

Links to the story: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15563635,00.html;

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6659757,00.html;

http://www.mdr.de/brisant/zwickauer-trio204_zc-d3f5b083_zs-199ad683.html;

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/zdf-macht-osten-zur-no-go-area/5888310.html

 

http://www.jenapolis.de/2011/11/wir-erwarten-eine-offentliche-entschuldigung-des-zdf-mindestens-bei-allen-burgern-jenas/

 

Sebastian Vettel wins Formula 1

For the second year in a row, we have a German champion in Formula One car racing. Sebastian Vettel took the crown despite his second place finish in the last race of the season in Brazil. Born in Heppenheim (near Frankfurt/Main), Vettel started his career early in 2007, having won his first championship last year, the first German to do that since Michael Schumacher won his last championship in 2001. This year, Vettel smashed many records, among them, having started at pole position 15 times, one greater than Nigel Mansell in 1992, and winning eleven out of 15 in 16 races this season. He also recorded an unprecidented 122 points, putting the competition in the dust.  Congratulations to Vettel and may you start another long streak of championships like your former counterpart did.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastian_Vettel

 

Neuner considers early retirement

It is very rare to see a sportsman retire in the mid to late 20s to even early 30s unless you are Randy Moss, the wide receiver who played for five American football teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots. Perhaps Magdalena Neuner can learn from his example of when to say when, as the biathlete from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (located in the Alps south of Munich) is considering retirement after the 2011-12 season. The reason for this decision is her will to pursue other interests. While the decision is not yet final, the 24-year old, like Randy Moss, has won several championships on the national and international levels, including 24 World-Cup gold medals, finishing in the top three 45 times and won two Gold medals in last year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Yet health issues combined with interest in doing other things in life has gotten her to consider her future beyond this season. Should Neuner decide to call it quits after this season, then it would definitely be on a high note as one of the most successful biathletes in the history of winter sports. Best of luck to you no matter what your decision will be.

Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalena_Neuner#Olympic_Games

http://www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/sport/Magdalena-Neuner-startet-in-den-Weltcup-und-denkt-ans-Aufhoeren-id17729071.html

 

 

Note from the Author: The Christmas Markets have started already throughout all of Germany, and this means a tour of some of the finest towns with the best markets with the goal of attracting many tourist-wannabes to the region the next time they consider a flight to Germany. The Flensburg Files has a couple in mind that are worth visiting and will post Jason’s Pics during the month of September. Where exactly? It’s being kept a secret for now, but you’ll see once they are out in the public open. Stay tuned….

Guttenberg Resigns- A consequence for cheating

After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin.  He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.

The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue.  This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible.  Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor  of the thesis Prof. Peter Häberle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.

While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years.  With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties?  This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.  In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.

From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.

So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve.   Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn,  Forests, …. you get the picture.

I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….

Links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/interaktiv/8287832-3.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8287421.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6454809,00.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/01/germany.politics/index.html?hpt=T2

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/world/europe/02germany.html?_r=1&hp

The Guttenberg Story- update

In connection with the story that was written about the plagarism scandal that is affecting Germany’s defense minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, here are the latest developments:

1. Guttenberg has decided to relinquish his doctorate title for good. He sent a request to his alma mater, the University of Bayreuth asking them to retract his doctorate title permanently, admitting at a rally in Frankfurt on Monday that after taking a look at the thesis over the weekend that he discovered many major errors that were unintentional, but yet felt that the decision to give up his title, albeit painful, was the best course of action. The University however will continue to investigate allegations of plagarism in his doctorate thesis and will finish proofreading it until the very end.

2. Despite his decision, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will still keep Guttenberg on as Defense Minister, citing that he could head the ministry without the doctorate title in the hand. This is in light of the fact that Guttenberg is still one of the most popular politicians in the German parliament Bundestag and up until the scandal, he was in the running for either the post of prime minister or even the German chancellor. Still, surveys, like the one conducted by the Central Germany Broadcasting Group, MDR revealed that the majority (61% in this survey) believe that the scandal could tarnish his own image. As mentioned in the last entry, Guttenberg’s downfall as a result of this scandal could create a domino effect that could harm the future prospects of the Dream Coalition, let alone Merkel’s future as German chancellor. Already her party, the Christian Democrats suffered a royal beating in the city-state of Hamburg on Sunday as the Social Democrats manhandled the party and now has the absolute majority to govern the city by itself. The Guttenberg scandal could potentially produce a backlash where other states could follow Hamburg’s lead and unseat Merkel’s party in the upcoming elections, producing a wave change last seen between 2002 and 2005, the time when Gerhard Schröder’s coalition of the Greens and Social Democrats were ruling Germany.

Now the question is whether Guttenberg’s course of action will suffice for the opposition. Already, calls for his resignation from his post have been echoing the halls of the parliamentary building and there are plans of holding a hearing by the opposition sometime in the course of the week. If and when it will take place, and how it will turn out remains to be seen. But the plagarism scandal will be watched closely. More later from the Files.

Sources:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14858955,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/news/nf-1-10.html

http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/guttenberg670.html