Sunday, January 24, 2010

Breaking Israel’s Academic Stranglehold

Evelyn Gordon
22 January '10

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

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