Plagiarism in High Places

In Education, of All Ministries, Academic Credentials Should Be Above Reproach

Opinion | Matthias Wurz | June 2007

In May, the Austrian media analyst and so-called "plagiarism-hunter" Stefan Weber accused Higher Education Minister Johannes Hahn of cutting a few corners too many on his doctoral thesis, oh-so many years ago.

Weber, a professor at Salzburg University and responsible for uncovering a number of recent high-profile cases of intellectual theft, argued that major sections of the paper that was the basis of his PhD were in fact unreferenced, slightly adapted, passages from the work of the Austrian philosopher Leopold Kohr.

Hahn was awarded his doctorate in 1987 with a thesis on Perspectives of Philosophy Today – Exemplified by the Phenomenon of the City. Even a casual browse reveals Hahn’s work as short on inspiration, its conclusion coming across like a political manifesto, exhorting the reader to "revive cities to cities again," as part of a purported  modern "city philosophy".

The problem however is less the indirect accusation of plagiarism against a politician whose political career has progressed to ministerial heights. It’s always possible that Weber’s accusation is itself politically motivated, as revenge for Hahn’s decision to reject a project application by the Salzburg Professor.

It’s more what the problem says about Austrian higher education, where this is just one more case of lenient dealing with plagiarism rules by Austrian Academia of the past decades.

And even more problematic is what it says about the Minister of Higher Education himself, someone this incident reveals to have scant experience in academic work, which is so clearly demonstrated by the overall poor quality of his own writing.

And there is nothing in his previous political career as party leader of the Vienna People’s Party (ÖVP) that has given him any relevant credentials or experience that would make up the gap.

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