Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - A Little Tarnish on the Title

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - A Little Tarnish on the Title

Article excerpt

Honorary professorships can be controversial because they are sometimes awarded to individuals who have made large donations or who can serve marketing and promotional purposes, and also because they can mislead people who do not understand the difference between these titles and the usual research-based ones. In Germany, the issue has flared up, probably as a result of the recent spate of plagiarism scandals.

The broadcaster and media personality Ulrich Wickert has an honorary professorship, as does the entertainer and musician Gotz Alsmann and the theologian Margot Kassmann. (Interestingly, Dr Alsmann does hold a "real" doctorate in the field of music.)

These degrees often entail more than just honouring an individual. Recipients of honorary professorships in Germany are often expected to do some teaching in return for their award. But some of those honoured have little in terms of academic achievements. Especially when no teaching is involved, the allegation is that universities attempt to raise their status (or funding) with famous names, who receive a title in return. This sounds rather like a trade exchange, which does not conform to the traditional objectives of honorary doctorates.

When recipients are required to teach, the teaching may not be pedagogically sound. Even if students benefit from experts sharing their experience, it can be argued that universities are there for more serious stuff. Thus, Dr Alsmann's musical lectures - which involve popular tunes played on the accordion - have raised a few eyebrows.

Der Spiegel cites the author and television presenter Claus-Erich Boetzkes as a positive example of an honorary professor, one who gives seminars and grades exams.

Given that in many cases, these professors should, strictly speaking, have clear teaching requirements, there is criticism of the downgrading of honorary professorships. …

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