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MALAG - The Israel Council for Higher Education: Reject threat to prohibit student registration to BGU Politics Department

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We, faculty members in academic institutions in Israel and around the world, express our profound concern over the demand of the Sub-Committee for Teaching Evaluation of the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE - MALAG) to stop registration of new students in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University beginning in the fall of 2014. Such an action would be tantamount to closing the Department.

This is an unacceptable assault on academic freedom in our universities.

We call upon the Council of Higher Education to reject the recommendation of its Sub-Committee and to provide the Ben-Gurion Department of Politics and Government with the necessary means for its development in keeping with the recommendations of an International Review Committee.

Without impugning the Sub-Committee’s motives, but in the interests of transparency and in reference to allusions in the President’s letter (below), it must be mentioned that the Sub-Committee’s unfortunate recommendation comes in the wake of very public and concerted pressure in Israel by right-wing politicians and NGOs to close down the department, and in particular to fire a named member of faculty, because of left-wing views.

Below we attach our unapproved translation of the letter of The President of Ben-Gurion University to the CHE, and we respond to her call to support our colleagues in Ben-Gurion University, and in particular the scholars in the Department of Politics and Government, to develop the department in accordance with their professional expertise and discipline, and academic freedom.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
12th September 2012. 3rd Tishrei 5773

From: Prof. Rivka Carmi , President

My fellow academic and researcher colleagues in Israel,
I turn to you as President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and with your indulgence, also as Chairperson of the University Presidents’ Board. Something has befallen Israel Academia. For the first time the Sub-Committee for Teaching Evaluation of the Council For Higher Education (CHE) has recommended to the Council to prohibit student registration as of fall 2013 in a university department, in this case the Department of Politics and Government of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This extreme decision, is not in consequence of an extraordinary event, a serious incident, or non-fulfillment of CHE requirements. Hence the following should cause apprehension in all who are concerned about Academia in Israel.

Over a year ago the CHE appointed an International Professional Review Committee to evaluate the university departments of political science and governance in Israel. As you know, such evaluations are routine and the CHE frequently evaluates different departments in all our universities. The Review Committee report evaluated all the departments of political science and government in Israel.

The Committee made a series of recommendations to the CHE that the department of Politics and Government in Ben-Gurion University should implement. The main recommendations were to appoint additional members of faculty and to expand the core curriculum.

In response to these recommendations, the university and the department, in coordination with the CHE and with two foreign members of the Review Committee appointed by the CHE to monitor the process, appointed in record time three new members of faculty and revised the curriculum. The improvements met the Review Committee’s recommendations, which expressed its satisfaction and praise for the changes in a report by the two foreign members appointed to oversee the changes.

In view of all this we were astounded to discover that the CHE Sub-Committee again discussed the issue and issued an extreme and harsh decision that bears no relation whatsoever to the satisfactory report of the Review Committee foreign members appointed by the CHE to monitor the changes in the department.

As happened with its previous discussion of the Review Committee report, this Sub-Committee decision was immediately leaked to the media, even before being given to the University leadership. You all obviously recall the public debate the report engendered, and the agitation against the University caused by that initial leak. We are currently facing the consequences of the new leak.

Out of our profound commitment to academic freedom we view with anxiety and dismay the latest steps of the CHE, but we are also determined to contest them. The decision of the Sub-Committee is unreasonable and unmeasured, but mainly it is incompatible with the report of the Review Committee’s International members appointed to monitor the process of change in the Ben-Gurion department. We are therefore perturbed as to what lies beneath this decision,

This is not a private struggle of Ben-Gurion university but a struggle of the whole of academia in Israel. The tendentious leak of ostensibly academic decisions to the media is a warning sign. Acceptance of the Sub-Committee recommendation by the CHE would be a Black Flag* over academic independence in Israel.

At this time, when there are many threats to Israel’s Academia from within and without, I ask for your support against the dangerous moves fomented before our eyes.

Prof. Rivka Carmi, President

*Black Flag: In Israel, dire warning, red line. [translator]
I thank Julia Chaitin, PhD, School of Social Work, Sapir College, Israel, and Prof. Dr. Dvora Yanow,
Visiting Professor, Communication, Philosophy, and Technology Department, Social Science Faculty, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, for their help in preparing the petition.
They bear no responsibility for its content.
Micah Leshem, PhD. Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Israel.

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