Unauthorized use of titles/Ermittlungen gegen Gebrauch eines US-Doktortitels

There’s been some excitement in the press about criminal investigation proceedings against some highly qualified Americans at the Max Planck Institute in Jena and elsewhere. They had the temerity to describe themselves as Dr. and Professor Dr. But in Germany, you can use Dr. as part of your name only if the doctorate is German.

What academic titles one can bear is governed by Land law. When I started teaching at a Bavarian Fachakademie in 1982, I was not allowed to call myself Frau Dr. Marks, although this did not stop my employer doing so. I was not even allowed to write Ph.D. after my name – I would have had to pay a sum of 83 DM, I think it was, to be allowed to do so. I may have broken this rule, because I certainly didn’t pay the money. I don’t know what the penalties were, but it was a matter of administrative law as far as I was concerned.

In recent years, the situation has been relaxed for EU citizens. I suppose Germany was forced to grant reciprocity. I was still told I might call myself Frau Dr. (London) Marks. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

The Kultusministerium used to write to a British fellow-examiner, who was employed at the FIM Fachakademie in Munich, as Herr Dr. X. One day I found out while chatting to him on the phone that his Ph.D. was from Oxford! This was before the EU relaxation. Shortly afterwards I was able to leverage the forbidden title out of the Kultusministerium after I wrote them a letter (they had curtly told my school principal a few years before that a Kultusministerium cannot call a foreigner Dr.).

Anyway, the hoo-hah now relates to Americans and to section 132a of the German Criminal Code, which imposes a sentence of up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine on those who use German or foreign titles without authorization. § 132a German § 132a English.

The main purpose of this section is apparently to protect the general public against those falsely claiming expertise. Using the title on one’s business card is evidence, but I presume that if the person does not normally act in a manner likely to damage the public, the charges will be dropped.

See article in the Washington Post, Non-European PhDs In Germany Find Use Of ‘Doktor’ Verboten.

Ian Thomas Baldwin, a Cornell-educated researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, has stopped calling himself “Dr.” ever since he was summoned for interrogation by police two months ago on suspicion of “title abuse.”
“Coming from the States, I had assumed that when you get a letter from the criminal police, you’ve either murdered someone or embezzled something or done something serious,” said Baldwin, a molecular ecologist. “It is absurd. It’s totally absurd.”

Der Spiegel has the story in German.

In der Tat hatte sich der Amerikaner auf Visitenkarten, Briefpapier und der Internet-Präsenz seines Instituts als “Prof. Dr. Ian Baldwin” bezeichnet. Das hatte sich Baldwin so angewöhnt, weil ihn seine deutschen Kollegen exakt so angeschrieben hatten. An “Professor Dr. Ian T. Baldwin” etwa war der Brief adressiert, mit dem die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ihren Neuzugang 1996 herzlich begrüßt hatte, einen von gleich drei Amerikanern, die sie für Jena gewinnen konnte. Auch Einladungen zu Vorträgen an Universitäten ergingen immer an den “Prof. Dr.”.

Der Spiegel says that the problem has probably been caused by a frustrated foreigner who is not allowed to call himself Dr. in Germany and who is taking his revenge by reporting Max Planck Institute scientists who do this to the police, who are then happy to pursue the complaints.

LATER NOTE: there are at present 77 comments on the Washington Post article. There are some wonderfully ignorant and ranting remarks: the term ‘reichsanwalt’ contributed by someone in Munich with a law degree, the suggestion that Germany only became a nation in the 1930s, the view that fascism has reigned in Europe since the Roman Empire and the EU was the first step towards ‘the end’, and ‘The Germans have been causing trouble as far back as the Goths’. Also some good sense on § 132 from Robert Gellately. Great irritation at Germany being the only country in the world to require a licence to play golf. And ‘not all bad, puts Condi Rice down a couple of pegs. Univ. of Denver prob wont even make the 200 school list when they relax the law.’

Via German American Law Journal blog, which points out that the press will have a wonderful anti-German field day with this.

12 thoughts on “Unauthorized use of titles/Ermittlungen gegen Gebrauch eines US-Doktortitels

  1. So you MM are not allowed even to use the title PhD Uni Lond.

    This titular ban must partly derive from the German authorities’ phobia of a Hauptmann von K

    • Yes, I’ve always been permitted to attach Ph.D. after my name – the financial requirement has been dropped since c. 2001, thanks to the EU. That was the Bavarian requirement – I don’t know about the other L

  2. Yes, I wonder who that ‘someone’ was…

    You also anticipated with the 2001 financial requirement – or pre-empted without charge – my point about incompatibility with the mutual EU-wide recognition of academic and professional titles.

    I also believe the European Convention on Human Rights can be argued against the German law – no deprivation of lawful property, paradoxically mistranslated French into English as possessions which wouldn’t cover titles – and Protocol 1: protection of private property: which arguably does.

    Unfortunately, the US is not a signatory to the ECHR. So its citizens – unless European-naturalised – won’t be allowed to rely on the Convention. Or would they?

    Prof. Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Wiener Kaffeehaustr

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