November 8th, 2012 | University

Grad students stage ‘walk out’ against former German minister

Protesters stage a "walk out" at former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's talk Wednesday afternoon.
Protesters stage a "walk out" at former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's talk Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Yuval Ben-David.

With American elections just hours over, international politics are quickly making a comeback at Yale.

A group of about 15 German Ph.D. students staged a walkout Wednesday afternoon against a talk on “Myths of the Transatlantic Relations” by former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Guttenberg — who had served as Germany’s defense minister from October 2009 to March 2011 — resigned after he was determined to have plagiarized a 2007 doctoral thesis in law.

“Mr. Guttenberg is infamous for denying the relevance of academic integrity from his position as Federal Minister in Germany, for deriding the academic community, and for refusing to take responsibility for plagiarizing his dissertation,” read a flyer emailed to Yale Law School students.

At the event, protesters began booing and heckling the former minister after Sophia Clementi ’14, executive director of the Yale International Relations Association — which organized the event — wrapped up her introduction of Guttenberg.

“You’re not welcome here!” some protesters shouted as they left.

“I would say something about it if you could stay,” Guttenberg responded. “And also about shame, also about failure.”

“No, we actually have to work on our dissertations,” one protester responded, sarcastically. “We’re heading to the library.”

“Fair enough, fair enough,” Guttenberg said, nodding.

As protesters’ cheers echoed in the hallway, Guttenberg addressed the plagiarism incident to the remaining crowd of around 70.

“Academically, I’m ashamed of what I did, but I also decided, in coming over here, that I am now obliged to give something back to a community which I treated not in the right way,” he said.

According to Annalena Mueller GRD ’15, who participated in the walkout, the protesters were mostly German political science and history Ph.D. students. Mueller added that it represented “unbelievable irony” that Guttenberg would be invited to speak at a university.

Aaron Vanides GRD ’16, an American Ph.D. student in medieval studies and also a walkout participant, called Guttenberg “the scum of the academic Earth” and said Guttenberg should have been prevented from speaking “at a private university that claims to be very concerned with academic integrity.”

But according to YIRA treasurer Suyash Bhagwat ’15, Guttenberg’s experiences as Germany’s defense minister deserved respect regardless of his issues with academic integrity.

“His experience is his well-earned knowledge … and experience isn’t copyrighted by anyone,” Bhagwat said.