Von Hagens' credentials under fire

December 13, 2002

Anatomist Gunther von Hagens could face trouble in Germany if his title of "professor" turns out to be unacceptable under the country's standards.

He caused outrage last month when he dissected the body of a 72-year-old man live on UK television. A Scotland Yard report is to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will consider whether the spectacle breached the Anatomy Act.

German officials are re-examining a permit that allowed von Hagens to use the title of visiting professor on a year-long assignment at a Chinese university.

The university said that no teaching was involved in the post, which could render his status unwarranted. The North-Rhine Westphalia Ministry of Science, which administers academic titles, said using a title without the proper qualifications was a "serious offence".

Ministry spokesman Thomas Breustedt said: "We consented to allow von Hagens to use the 'visiting professor' status in 1991 while he carried out his teaching assignment at the Dalian Medical University in China.

"But he has continued to use the title, and now he has to prove that he qualifies for it. If he can show us that he has continued to teach at the university for at least 150 hours a year, then he can carry on using it."

In Germany, the status of professor is much sought after. Professors from other countries teaching at German universities even have to revert to calling themselves "Mr" if they do not match the country's high standards.

Sui Hongjin of Dalian University told the ministry that von Hagens'

"professor" was "a courtesy title".

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