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Non-European PhDs In Germany Find Use Of 'Doktor' Verboten
"It wasn't worth the trouble of doing anything about it," he said. "It's really an absurd situation in a globalized world."
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.
Joerg Stolz, the chief prosecutor in the city of Jena, which is investigating Baldwin and another researcher at the Max Planck Institute there on suspicion of title abuse, said those two probes were "near closure."
He said his office had recommended to a judge against filing charges. In that event, he said, the matter would be referred to the Cultural Ministry in the state of Thuringia, which could still decide whether a civil fine is warranted.
Detlef Baer, a spokesman for the ministry, said officials planned to drop both cases. "We spoke with the parties involved and determined they had no criminal intent," he said. "They were given instructions as to how they can refer to their titles," by citing the degree but not calling themselves doctors.
Another American investigated by police is an astrophysicist with a doctorate from Caltech and membership in the German Academy of Sciences.
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.
So the next time Dr. Condoleezza Rice (PhD, University of Denver) or even German-born Dr. Henry Kissinger (PhD, Harvard) pay a visit to Berlin, they may want to stick with the title "secretary of state."