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German profs concerned as Ph.D. inquiry broadens

German profs concerned as Ph.D. inquiry broadens

An investigation of German professors suspected of accepting bribes to advise doctoral candidates could last months, prosecutors said Tuesday, as academics worried that degrees earned under paid advisement could undermine the prestige of Ph.D.s.
About 100 professors are suspected of accepting payment for doctoral advisement _ a fraudulent act because serving as an adviser is part of their job description.
"Such behavior would deeply discount the credibility of scholarship," Education Minister Annette Schavan said over the weekend after the scandal was made public.
At the center of the investigation is the Institute for Scientific Consulting, a private academic advising business that was based in Bergisch Gladbach, east of Cologne, and went bankrupt last summer after an initial investigation landed its director in jail.
The director, who has not been identified publicly because of German privacy laws, was found guilty in July 2008 of paying bribes to a Hannover University law professor and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on top of a ⁈ (about $100,000) fine.
The professor confessed to accepting nearly ⁈0 ($286,000) to advise more than 60 doctorate students between 1998-2005 and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Now, prosecutors say documents seized in a March 2008 raid of the institute's offices and other evidence gathered during the initial investigation suggest that the scandal is more extensive.
"It's deeper than we initially thought," said Guenther Feld, a spokesman for the Cologne prosecutors leading the investigation.
The institute advertised its broad connections in German academia and experience consulting aspiring Ph.D. students to justify fees of between ⁈⁈ ($5,700-$28,500) to set doctorate applicants up with an adviser.
In Germany, a Ph.D. is a highly-sought credential for those aiming for the top of their field. Professionals referred to as "Herr Dr." and "Frau Dr." are common in disciplines far removed from academia and medicine, such as politics and finance.
With the pressure to secure the career-elevating honorary so high, people are often willing to pay to expedite the lengthy process of locating a professor with the correct expertise and enough time to advise their doctorate work, said Matthias Jaroch, a spokesman for the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers.
"A doctor title is not only an earning advantage, it's prestigious," Jaroch said. "That's the source of people's willingness to pay for this, even by illegal means."
Feld said that "as far as we know," students were not aware that money they paid to the company would be used to bribe professors, and that they are not a target of the investigation.
German media reported that some of the bribed professors also relaxed the requirements of the Ph.D. process. Feld said it was too early to tell whether and to what extent that is the case.
"What happened in individual incidents, I don't know. That depends on the individual case. I can't generalize," Feld said.
Jaroch, the professors' association spokesman, said that the group would be following the investigation closely, and might recommend to legal authorities that some of the doctorates in question be revoked.
"We could definitely envision that the titles would be revoked," Jaroch said. "But we have to wait, because the investigation is still open. We have to wait until charges are brought, and then we will see what is in the details of each case."
Jaroch said the investigation was important in protecting a fair process for the 25,000 students in Germany who apply for a doctorate each year.
Feld would not disclose the names of professors under investigation or their home institutions, though German media reported that they worked at over 10 universities across Germany, from Hamburg and Rostock in the north to Ingolstadt and Munich in the south.