American PhDs Can’t Call Selves ‘Doktor’ in Germany
American PhDs working in Germany are suddenly being visited by the police for using the title “Dr.”
Americans with PhDs beware: Telling people in Germany that you’re a doctor could land you in jail.
At least seven U.S. citizens working as researchers in Germany have faced criminal probes in recent months for using the title “Dr.” on their business cards, Web sites and résumés. They all hold doctoral degrees from elite universities back home.
Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use “Dr.” as a courtesy title. The law was modified in 2001 to extend the privilege to degree-holders from any country in the European Union. But docs from the United States and anywhere else outside Europe are still forbidden to use the honorific. Violators can face a year behind bars.
The proper use of honorifics is no small matter in Germany, a society given to formality where even longtime neighbors insist on addressing each other using their surnames. Those with advanced degrees like to show them off, and it is not uncommon to earn more than one. A male faculty member with two PhDs can fully expect to be called “Herr Professor Dr. Dr. Schmidt,” for example.
The German doctor rule has been in effect since the 1930s, but it has been only sporadically enforced in recent years. That changed last fall, when an anonymous tipster filed a complaint with federal prosecutors against seven Americans at the prestigious Max Planck Society, which operates 80 scientific research institutes across Germany. Federal authorities forwarded the complaint to prosecutors and police in at least three states, who decided to take action.
The criminal investigations have alarmed higher education officials in Germany, where U.S. researchers are in high demand and treated as blue-chip recruits. Last week, state education ministers met in Berlin and recommended that the law be modified so anyone holding a doctorate or medical degree from America could be addressed as “Dr.” without running afoul of the police.
“This is a completely overdone, mad, absolutely ridiculous situation,” said Barbara Buchal-Hoever, head of Germany’s central office for foreign education. “We are talking about highly acclaimed researchers here. . . . The people who have pressed charges must be gripers or troublemakers who wanted to make a totally absurd point.”
Even if the proposal is adopted, however, it would extend the privilege only to people with degrees from about 200 U.S. universities accredited by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Anyone with a PhD from Canada, Japan or the rest of the non-European world would still be excluded.
For now, the old law remains on the books. It is unclear when, or if, Germany’s state parliaments will change it.
Hilarious. It should be noted that charges are being dropped in all cases, so no one is going to jail here. But it’s still a ridiculously antiquated law that needs to be changed, schnell.
Presumably, the law had its origins in Nazi-era xenophobia. Given the German love of heirarchy, though, they’ve likely kept it on the books because there are indeed plenty of foreign institutions which grant PhDs of dubious merit and one wouldn’t want to remove the value of legitimate degrees by placing them all on equal footing. A blanket ban, however, is overkill.
Incidentally, the recognition of European degrees but not those from the United States and elsewhere was not an academic judgment but rather a requirement of European Union membership.
via Tyler Cowen
UPDATE: The Germans are not known for their efficiency for nothing. Despite this being page 1 news in today’s Washington Post, the law has apparently been changed. I say “apparently” because here’s the relevant portion of the report in Die Zeit as translated by Babelfish:
But made appointed title defender a principal error now. It planned the professors of the Max-Planck company, one of the prominent national research establishments, which are dependent on the international inflow of brilliant scientists. And those are sour: Didn’t Germany want to along-play in the first league of the science locations? They can go also elsewhere!
That convinced then finally also the conference of Secretary of cultural affairs (KMK), which is insulted of its critics in friendly moments as epitome of the Braesigkeit. The Ministers decided past week a reorganization, unbureaucratically surprisingly and quickly, how KMK president announced Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer also proud then.
In the future graduates of outstanding US universities may lead their doctor without Clammy ones. Joerg Draeger went with the crucial tuning before the door.
Mark Twain would understand perfectly.