Disgraced former German Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg canceled his scheduled lecture in Haldemann after a flurry of criticism from students and faculty over the weekend. Guttenberg, who was invited to speak at an event hosted by the International Business Council, cited personal reasons in a written statement to the student group.
Guttenberg became a controversial figure in the German political arena after reports surfaced in last spring that he had plagiarized a substantial portion of his doctoral thesis, The Guardian reported.
The IBC invited Guttenberg to “learn more about his perspective on trans-Atlantic economic and security ties,” the organization said in a email to The Dartmouth.
Guttenberg’s invitation provoked outrage among students and faculty, and an online petition protesting the event circulated among the College community over the weekend.
The petition, which was iniated by German studies professor Veronika Fuechtner, collected over 100 signatures in three days.
The petition notes that Guttenberg has denied wrongdoing and continually downplays his actions as a mistake.
“I was very shocked by this,” Fuechtner said. “The fact that he did not apologize…I was pretty upset.”
Students and faculty members from the history and German studies departments collaborated to coordinate the protest. A letter to the IBC and a walk-out during Guttenberg’s lecture were suggested, according to Danielle Smith ’15, a student in Fuechtner’s class.
Before issuing the petition, the protest group contacted the IBC’s leadership to persuade them to reconsider their invitation but the attempts were unsuccessful, Fuechtner said.
History professor Udi Greenberg, who signed the petition, was pleased that Guttenberg decided not to come to the College.
“In our point of view, it’s a very cynical exploitation of student interests,” Greenberg said. “In general, if you believe in integrity, this should bother you.”
Manfred Pfister, a former visiting professor, said on the petition’s website that “[Guttenberg’s] comportment as an academic is a scandal and so were his subsequent attempts to cover up and mitigate his misdemeanor.”
This is not the first instance that Guttenberg has encountered public criticism at an academic institution.
Last fall, 15 Yale University graduate students walked out of his lecture, according to the Yale Daily News. Guttenberg addressed the plagiarism incident immediately following the walk out.
“Academically, I’m ashamed of what I did, but I also decided, in coming over here, that I am now obliged to give something back to a community which I treated not in the right way,” he said at Yale’s event.
Greenberg said that the petition did not challenge freedom of speech rights.
“No one debates his right to express his views,” he said. “Academic institutions are just not the place.”
Fuechtner said that a person who has committed such blatant acts of academic honesty does not belong in an academic setting like Dartmouth.
“You wouldn’t invite Lance Armstrong to give a talk at a sports academy,” she said.
Fuechtner started the petition after Smith casually mentioned the event. Smith recognized Guttenberg’s name because she was living in Germany at the time of the scandal, she said.
“This is a person who lied into his position,” she said. “It sheds a bad light on Dartmouth.”
Before these allegations surfaced, Guttenberg was a popular figure in Germany and won the title of “Germany’s most popular politician” in a 2009 poll in the German tabloid Bild.
In February 2011, reports began circulating in Germany that his 2007 thesis was almost entirely plagiarized.
A commission at the University of Bayreuth confirmed the rumors after discovering substantial fraud.
Within two weeks, Guttenberg was stripped of his doctorate and resigned as defense minister, The Guardian reported.
IBC director Alex Matthey 14 declined requests for comment.