Withdrawal of an academic degree

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The withdrawal of an academic degree ( depromotion ) is an administrative act that cancels the award of an academic degree .

The legal basis in Germany is the respective examination regulations of the universities , in the case of doctoral achievements the doctoral regulations of the respective faculty in connection with the corresponding regulations in the administrative procedural laws of the federal states (§§ 48 ff. VwVfG).

A withdrawal can take place if the applicant is guilty of deception in the examination procedure to obtain the academic degree , for example plagiarism , but also if a person later turns out to be unworthy of the doctoral degree or a certain deliberate crime through subsequent academic misconduct commits.


The award of an academic degree is, by its legal nature, an administrative act . Withdrawal is its subsequent cancellation ( actus contrarius ).

An administrative act that was illegal when it was issued can be withdrawn ; an administrative act that was lawful when it was issued and only later became illegal for certain reasons can be revoked .

The but-knowing administrative act is regularly connected to the coercive payments reinforced obligation to hand over the award certificate.

Revocation of a grant that was illegal from the start

If it turns out after the award that the title was acquired through deception or that essential prerequisites for the award were not met, an academic degree awarded can be withdrawn.

Depending on the specific regulations in the individual state university laws and examination regulations of the universities, a regulation corresponding to Section 48 VwVfG in the state administrative procedure law can also apply.

The award is usually canceled with effect for the past, whereby the person concerned can only invoke the protection of legitimate expectations under certain conditions . Trust worthy of protection is excluded in any case in the case of fraudulent deception or bribery.

Cancellation is at the university's discretion . In doing so, it must weigh up trust in science against the professional and social consequences for the person concerned. On March 9, 2016, the Hannover Medical School came to the conclusion in the case of Ursula von der Leyen's work that it was a less serious case. The University Investigation Commission found that 20% of the work was incorrect, but that “serious errors” could only be proven in three places.

Withdrawal based on facts that occurred afterwards

In particular, the doctoral degree can also be withdrawn through misconduct after it has been awarded.

According to § 49 VwVfG, a lawful beneficial administrative act may be revoked in whole or in part with effect for the future, even after it has become incontestable, if the authority would be entitled not to issue the administrative act on the basis of subsequent facts, and if without the revocation the public interest would be jeopardized. A criminal conviction can also be considered as such a subsequent fact if, in mirror image of the offense, a provision in the relevant doctoral degree regulations stipulates that admission to the examination can be refused if there is a criminal conviction for an intentional criminal offense to imprisonment of at least one year .

However, a university may only attach relevance to criminal conduct on the part of the doctoral candidate to the extent that science-related criminal offenses are involved. The same applies to subsequent "unworthiness", which is a reason for withdrawal in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

The case of Jan Hendrik Schön is an example : he received his doctorate in 1998 at the University of Konstanz . In his later publications, but not in his dissertation, Schön was then repeatedly proven that he had manipulated it; In 2004 the University of Konstanz then tried to withdraw his doctorate from him. Schön appealed. In September 2010, the Freiburg Administrative Court ruled that Schön was allowed to continue to use the degree because the university's justification was insufficient for such a measure. The university then appealed, and the Mannheim Administrative Court found that in the “interest of a well-functioning science” the revocation was rightly done. Now Schön appealed; However, the judgment was confirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2014 and the physicist finally lost his doctorate.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, the law on the use of academic degrees remained in force from 1939 to 1987, on the basis of which the degree can be withdrawn if the holder "later behavior has shown himself to be unworthy of the use of an academic degree".


Withdrawal for plagiarism

In the case of scientific plagiarism, the applicant consciously assumes third-party authorship for the thesis. A scientific plagiarism presupposes that it is science and not just pure observations without any independent evaluations, which can be observed by everyone - albeit only in special specialist circles. According to German jurisprudence, at least a “commentary statement” (Hessischer VGH, 1989), “an own dispute” (Hessischer VGH, 1989) or an “evaluation” (VG Berlin, 2009) must be made to the mere observation. "Thoughts and conclusions (...) have to be issued as one's own" (VG Darmstadt, 2011), it must be one's own "thought and mental achievement" (VG Frankfurt, 2007), "train of thought" (VG Frankfurt, 2007) or act a “line of thought” (Hessischer VGH, 1989), which have a “scientific depth” (VG Berlin, 2009). For example, the pure, non-judgmental presentation of the content of a court judgment, law, contract, etc. is not yet a "science", since only a systematic compilation of different court judgments and literary voices in relation to a set of topics can represent an intellectual achievement (Hessischer VGH, 1989). If there are scientific plagiarisms according to these criteria, a second step must be assessed as to whether the violations are significant. A distinction must be made between the quality and the quantity of possible plagiarism.

Plagiarism can also result in criminal prosecution at the instigation of the original author. If the degree was used to obtain a position that would not have been possible without the degree or if the authors are suing, the submission of a false affidavit can result in criminal penalties in the public interest.

The Austrian media scientist Stefan Weber is one of the experts in identifying plagiarism in dissertations . He is co-founder of the Transparent Science Initiative , on whose side dissertations can be discussed collaboratively.

Individual cases

Caused a sensation in the 1970s the case of Friedrich Wilhelm Prince of Prussia , the great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The University of Erlangen-Nuremberg decided in 1973, Prince of Prussia the academic degree of "Dr. phil. ”, which he had acquired in 1971.

In 1981 he submitted another thesis to the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and was again awarded a Dr. phil. PhD.

In the case of the CDU politician Andreas Kasper in June 2009, due to particular public interest, in addition to the withdrawal, there were also criminal consequences amounting to 9,000 euros, and another 10,000 euros for further plagiarism.

The Guttenberg affair began in February 2011 . The Internet platform GuttenPlag Wiki had initiated an investigation into the doctoral thesis of the then Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU). Zu Guttenberg resigned from his offices in March 2011, and the University of Bayreuth revoked his degree in May 2011. There was also a fine.

In the following months, further doctoral theses were checked for plagiarism on the VroniPlag Wiki platform . This led, for example, to the revocation of the doctoral degree of the FDP member of the Bundestag Georgios Chatzimarkakis , the FDP European member and former Vice President of the European Parliament Silvana Koch-Mehrin and the CDU politician Matthias Pröfrock . Other cases are Bijan Djir-Sarai (FDP) and Margarita Mathiopoulos (FDP), who were defeated before the Administrative Court in Cologne and on appeal before the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster.

In February 2013, the then Federal Minister of Science Annette Schavan (CDU), and in February 2015 the State Secretary of Hesse, Wolfgang Dippel (CDU), had his doctorate withdrawn.

Withdrawal for non-compliance with "minimum scientific standards"

In May 2011 there were allegations against Gundolf Keil that he had run a “university doctor factory” at the University of Würzburg . The University of Würzburg initiated a review of the doctoral theses supervised by Keil and offered the prospect of revoking doctoral degrees because they did not meet “minimum scientific standards”. In November 2012, doctoral degrees were revoked in two cases.

National Socialism

Disqualification for racial or political reasons

According to the law on the revocation of naturalizations and the deprivation of German citizenship of July 14, 1933, "Reich citizens who are abroad could be declared forfeited of German citizenship if they acted contrary to the duty of loyalty Reich and people offend who have harmed German interests. " Forced to emigrate through aryanization policy and "forced emigration", many Jewish academics and political opponents of the Nazi regime lost their German citizenship.

The German universities took the law as an occasion for a far-reaching change in their doctoral regulations on the grounds that the “emigrated traitors” were not worthy of a German doctorate.

Another provision of the since 1934 through various decrees conformist doctoral regulations stipulated that the doctorate was revoked by the university if their vehicle had been convicted of a criminal offense. These criminal acts included, in particular, crimes that can be clearly classified as political and ideological, such as high treason , violations of the treachery law , so-called racial disgrace or the wiretapping of enemy broadcasters. For other crimes that were punishable before 1933, such as homosexuality or abortion , the sentence was drastically increased in certain cases for ideological reasons. Between 1933 and 1945 there were eighteen withdrawals at Munich University for this reason. For the period after 1933, however, it is difficult to determine in retrospect whether a criminal conviction had been made in individual cases for political reasons, which also made rehabilitation more difficult in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The doctorate could also be withdrawn because of "unworthiness" if a court ruling against a doctoral candidate provided for the loss of civil rights as a side effect .

After the Reich Citizenship Act of September 15, 1935 had excluded so-called non-Aryans from Reich citizenship, the academic degree awarded by a German state university could be withdrawn again in accordance with Section 4 of the Law on the Use of Academic Degrees of June 7, 1939 on the basis of Reich law if it subsequently turned out that the holder of the award was unworthy .

By 1945, around 2,000 predominantly Jewish doctors were stripped of their doctorate degree from a German university.


The restitution policy after the Second World War aimed primarily at material compensation. The rehabilitation of the deprived as an immaterial act therefore played a subordinate role in the post-war period . In addition, there was an unclear legal situation with no statutory or at least ministerial regulations, as well as the fact that the university bodies responsible for re- awarding academic degrees ( Consilium decanale ) were mostly still staffed by the same people who had issued the withdrawals. At the German universities, too, the question of individual or institutional guilt was "not articulated or only articulated in a generally non-binding form".

Some universities did not officially rehabilitate those affected until later, including Hamburg 1991, Frankfurt am Main 1995, the University of Bonn 1998, the Humboldt University Berlin, Münster 2000, Marburg 2002, Gießen 2006.

The number of depromotions at the University of Leipzig comprised at least 73 people affected in the period from 1933 to 1944, as Burkhard Boemke declared in a ceremony on April 30, 2007 about the repeal.

The University of Würzburg recognized from the doctorate between 1933 and 1945 a total of 184 scientists. Above all, scientists of Jewish origin should be degraded. In individual cases, the withdrawal was revoked at the request of those affected after the National Socialist era. After a long-term work-up on these depromotions by a commission in 2010, the university reassigned all those affected, to a large extent posthumously , to their academic dignity in a ceremony on May 30, 2011.

At the University of Vienna , the project “Academic 'Dignity' - Withdrawal and reassignment of academic degrees at the University of Vienna” dealt with the withdrawals and reassignments of academic degrees between 1845 and 2005. It emerged from a study that had dealt with the "annulment of withdrawals" from the time of National Socialism from 2003 to 2004 . As part of a commemorative event at the University of Vienna in March 2004, 31 withdrawals from the time of National Socialism were declared null and void: for example those from Otto Abeles , Bruno Bettelheim , Paul Stefan , Otto Stern and Stefan Zweig .

Academic degrees obtained in the GDR

According to Article 37 (1) of the Unification Treaty , the right to use state-recognized or awarded academic professional titles, degrees and titles acquired in the GDR remained unaffected by the establishment of German unity in 1989/1990. Contrary to political demands, this also applies to the doctoral degrees awarded by the University of the Ministry for State Security . In addition, the university was dissolved in 1990, so that since then there has no longer been a competent university body for revocation.


The University Act (UG) provides for graduates to be awarded the specified academic degree ex officio after they have successfully passed the final examination (Section 87 UG). According to § 89 UG, the award notification is to be revoked and withdrawn if it subsequently emerges that the academic degree was obtained by fraudulently, in particular through falsified certificates or by pretending to be scientific or artistic achievements.

According to § 46 UG, the university bodies have to apply the General Administrative Procedure Act (AVG) in all official matters . According to the case law of the Administrative Court, several requirements are necessary for the fact of fraud within the meaning of Section 69 AVG : Intentional misleading, objectively incorrect information of essential importance must have been provided by the party to the authority on which the authority based the decision. In the case of scientific work, it can be assumed that a significant part of the work has been copied with intent to deceive and the work would have been rated worse (i.e. negative or with a less favorable positive grade) had these circumstances been known. If there is justified suspicion, the thesis supervisor must examine the documents.

Because of the strict official secrecy that also applies to university bodies in Austria , details of the cancellation proceedings are usually not made public.

Criminal law sanctions for fraudulent achievements in examinations and academic work no longer exist since the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1987. Section 108 of the Criminal Code (deception) was restricted accordingly by excluding deception of state organs with regard to the exercise of sovereign rights.


According to Art. 62 BV , higher education as part of the school system is basically a matter for the cantons .

The universities and their faculties or departments have issued various regulations based on the corresponding cantonal university laws, which include the acquisition and use of an academic title as well as sanctions for violations of the principles of academic integrity and ethically correct behavior.

For example, Section 38 of the Doctoral Degree Ordinance at the Law Faculty of the University of Zurich regulates the revocation of an academic degree by the faculty assembly. If it turns out after the award that admission to the doctorate has been obtained by fraud or that there is unfair behavior, the awarded degree will be revoked by the faculty assembly; any documents will be withdrawn. In particular, the more or less literal adoption of texts from the writings of other authors without reference to the source (plagiarism) and the use of unauthorized aids when providing evidence of performance are unfair.

A prominent example is the national councilor Doris Fiala .

See also


  • Volker Rieble : The science plagiarism . The failure of a system. Verlag Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-465-04101-6 .
  • Stefanie Harrecker: Graduated doctors. The revocation of the doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich during the National Socialist era (= contributions to the history of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich , Volume 2) Utz, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-8316-0691-7 . ( limited preview in Google Book search)
  • Thomas Henne (Ed.): The revocation of doctoral degrees at the law faculty of the University of Leipzig 1933 - 1945 . Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2007, ISBN 978-3-86583-194-1 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Doctoral degree regulations for the Law and Economics Faculty of the University of Bayreuth of November 27, 1979 in the version of the fifth amendment of March 30, 2000. §16 Paragraph 1 and Paragraph 3. In: uni-bayreuth.de. March 30, 2000, archived from the original on July 29, 2003 ; accessed on February 1, 2019 .
  2. cf. for example Section 17 (5) of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Hrsg.): Doctoral regulations for the Faculty of Philosophy and Educational Science at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum . Bochum July 26, 2016, p. 14–15 ( ruhr-uni-bochum.de [PDF; 247 kB ]).
  3. Christian von Coelln: The withdrawal of the doctoral degree - academics. In: academics.de. April 2011, accessed February 1, 2019 .
  4. cf. For example, Section 16, Paragraph 4 of the Doctoral Degree Regulations for the Law and Economics Faculty of the University of Bayreuth from November 27, 1979 in the version of the fifth amendment from March 30, 2000, University of Bayreuth ( Memento from August 17, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF ; 62 kB)
  5. VG Berlin, judgment of 25.06.2009 - 3 A 319/05 - openJur. In: openjur.de. Retrieved February 1, 2019 (paragraphs 20, 65).
  6. § 52 VwVfG
  7. cf. For example, Section 34, Paragraph 7, No. 1 of the Law on Universities in the State of Berlin (Berlin Higher Education Act - BerlHG) in the version dated July 26, 2011
  8. cf. VG Berlin, judgment of June 25, 2009 - Az. 3 A 319/05 para. 35
  9. Armin von Weschpfennig: Plagiarism, data falsification and no end - legal sanctions for scientific misconduct HFR 2012, no. 67
  10. Armin von Weschpfennig: Plagiarism, data falsification and no end - legal sanctions for scientific misconduct HFR 2012, no. 64
  11. ^ Dpa : Von der Leyen is allowed to keep his doctorate Leipziger Volkszeitung , March 9, 2016
  12. Armin von Weschpfennig: Plagiarism, data falsification and no end - legal sanctions for scientific misconduct HFR 2012, no. 55
  13. VG Köln, judgment of October 27, 2011 - Az. 6 K 3445/10 para. 57
  14. BVerwG, judgment of September 30, 2015 - 6 C 45.14
  15. Christoph Smets: BVerwG on the withdrawal of academic titles: Doctorate or doctoral degree? LTO , September 30, 2015
  16. Withdrawal of the doctoral degree due to "unworthiness" only in the case of scientific misconduct. Press release no. 85/2014 of October 1, 2014 on the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of September 3, 2014 - 1 BvR 3353/13
  17. Christian von Coelln: The withdrawal of the doctoral degree. In: academics.de. Zeit Verlagsgruppe , April 2011, accessed on January 31, 2019 .
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  25. a b Berlin Administrative Court, judgment of June 25, 2009, Az. 3 A 319.05, Juris marginal note 42.
  26. Darmstadt Administrative Court, judgment of April 14, 2011, Az. 3 K 899/10, Juris marginal number 38, reasons for the judgment
  27. a b Frankfurt Administrative Court, judgment of 23 May 2007, file number 12 E 2262/05, Juris marginal number 14 = WissR 2007, p. 448 ( online )
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  56. Stefanie Harrecker: Degradierte Do Doctors , Munich 2007, p. 112 f.
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  78. cf. Judgment of the Administrative Court of St. Gallen from August 29, 2011 - B 2011/102
  79. Fialas master’s course abolished - denied work not yet made up January 26, 2016
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