BERLIN (AP) — Germany's education minister said Wednesday she will not resign after a university found she had plagiarized parts of her thesis but will instead to fight the ruling — a major embarrassment for the government in an election year.
Annette Schavan, 57, is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the second minister in her Cabinet to lose a doctorate because of plagiarism. Former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned in 2011 after it emerged he copied large parts of his thesis.
Duesseldorf's Heinrich Heine University voted Tuesday to remove Schavan's doctorate after a thorough review of her 1980 thesis undertaken after an anonymous blogger raised plagiarism allegations.
On an official trip to South Africa, Schavan, who has always denied the allegations, said she would fight the ruling.
"I will not accept the University of Duesseldorf's decision and I will take legal action against it," she told reporters Wednesday in Johannesburg, the dpa news agency reported.
Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that the chancellor had been in contact with Schavan and "has the fullest confidence in her."
But the university's decision prompted calls from opposition politicians for Schavan's resignation, saying that she was in an untenable position because her ministry is responsible for education and science.
"She needs to step down because she can no longer be regarded as a role model and is harming science," Andrea Nahles, the general secretary of the opposition Social Democrats, said according to dpa.
Doctorates are highly prized in Germany, where it is not unusual for people to insist on being referred to by their full academic title. Falsely using a doctoral title is a criminal offense and can be punished with a fine or up to one year in prison.
The incident comes as the country is gearing up for national elections on Sept. 22, with Merkel's governing coalition with the Free Democrats currently neck-and-neck in the polls with a likely opposition coalition of the Greens and Social Democrats. Merkel's Christian Democrats remain the strongest party, according to polls.
Bruno Bleckmann , the head of the academic committee that voted 12-2 to remove Schavan's doctorate, said her thesis "contains a substantial number of uncredited direct quotes from other texts."
Schavan also failed to cite the works she used in her footnotes or bibliography, leading the committee to conclude that she had "systematically and intentionally claimed intellectual achievements ... that weren't her own," Bleckmann said.