Actually, I wrote this one on Monday morning, before Pal Schmitt resigned, so when it happened I put it aside. Only now I decided to rewrite a few sentences, extend it with one or two paraghraphs and post it anyway. I would like to state that this is my opinion, I don’t intend to offend anyone with it.
So, apparently what entertains foreign media the most in this story is that first Hungarian president Pal Schmitt said he’s not going to resign, then he said he’s not going to resign once more and then he resigned. What happened in my opinion was that neither him nor his party (which moves him) did appraise the size of the damage accurately at first. By the time they did it was too late, there was nothing else for him to do but resign. I have to also add that the way I see it, he still doesn’t get it. What he doesn’t get is that the fact that copying two third of his thesis from someone else was “his best knowledge at the time” is not something to brag about or to be proud of.
For me the main question was never whether he should have resigned or not. He never should have been appointed in the first place due to lacking of necessary qualifications. We are still very far from big time politics, in which a candidate should be vetted inside and out before he gets appointed to such a high position just to avoid any such scandals.
Regarding his fake or let’s call it “undeserved” doctorate, he is not the only one. And that may be the only reason why taking away his doctorate was not such a good idea after all. If it would be to start precedent then we needed to examine a large number of other thesises, especially from that time. (That could also be an arguement before court since now he is planning to sue.) During the socialist regime and a little after that, before the now applied and internationally unified PhD system came on in Hungary, there were other ways of getting a doctor’s degree. This one was an easier, simplier form, based less on the academic background of the applicants more on their otherwise honourable achievements. In this case Pal Schmitt’s achievements in sports and sport diplomacy. And let me just add, those are unquestionable.
So these people got a chance to have a doctor’s degree with less strict requirements. Sure it is a mistake to compare this to the requirements of a PhD thesis. It was specific of an era. It doesn’t necessary mean the ones who got it are bad persons. They were presented with the opportunity and they took it. Some of them had the conscience to put real work in it, some of them did not. I would think they are the ones who know how much their degrees worth, but this case shows some of them don’t. (N.B. I know people with this kind of degree who later went through the whole academic scale and sort of legitimated their scores with real achievements.) Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean they are criminals or frauds, not even the ones who did not earn it, they are just not presidential material. And here we go again, being as good as he may have been in anything else, he should never have been picked to be a president! That sort of “academic background” may have been good enough for the private sector or even diplomacy, but it is not good enough for presidency!
And the saddest consequence of all this for all of us would be if the world would really think this is specific for Hungary and Hungarian academics. Certainly, I wouldn’t like to see my degree questioned just becuase I live in a country where such things happen. Semmelweis University is a very prestigious institute with many foreign medical students from around the world. It is not even the ex-president’s alma mater in strict sense since it only became successor of the Hungarian Physical Education College – where he got his doctorate – due to recent organizational restructuring. So what happened should not discourage international students from coming to study in Hungary. And I hope it won’t!
And him earning a PhD degree, well I hope someone explained to him how that works, but good luck to him anyway!