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Leaked BGU report: Part of broader assault on academic freedom

Read excerpts from the report obtained by +972 Magazine.

The leaked report of a committee appointed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE), assessing Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government, is an anomaly compared to other reports, if not an outright, government-sponsored politicized mission against an academic department that has no precedent.

I repeat my full disclosure that I teach as an adjunct lecturer at this department.

Although the process of evaluation is an established routine (which I explain below), this report must be seen in a dire context of academic persecution that has been led largely by two NGOs. In 2008, one of them, Im Tirtzu, issued a report providing a political assessment of the levels of Zionism in Israeli universities, concluding a strong anti-Zionist bias – and legitimizing the notion of political thought-monitoring in Israel’s universities; another report was released in 2010. In August 2010, the Institute for Zionist Strategies, headed by extremist settler Israel Harel, published a similar report, assessing courses and syllabi and directly accusing Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion of anti-Zionist bias in their programs.

In the wake of this report, the head of Tel Aviv University asked faculty to review their syllabi, although he later retracted. A few weeks later, Im Tirtzu sent a brazen ultimatum to Ben Gurion University, demanding that it reform the department or, it threatened, the group would lobby foreign donors to cut off their funds. Gidon Saar, Education Minister, meanwhile had established his full-on support for Im Tirtzu. He attended a conference the group held, and told its members: “you will be blessed…I very much appreciate this work…[which] is much needed on our campuses…I came to tell you: Godspeed.” His later reservations about the group’s threat-tactics hardly cancel out this support.

Further, these campaigns appear within a general environment of legitimacy for anti-democratic legislation, designed to curtail press, civil society, the judicial system, and civil rights.

The academic review itself is part of a regular evaluation process that has existed since 2003, in which an external committee appointed by CHE assesses various academic fields each year. The process begins with an internal self-assessment report provided to the committee, which then visits each school and writes a report then presented to CHE for discussion.

To date, 23 different academic disciplines have undergone a review, in roughly five institutions each, and they are available in English.

The evaluation of Political Science and International Relations was to have been conducted in the academic year 2008/2009, when Professor Yuli Tamir of Labor was Education Minister. But the current committee was appointed in November 2010 by Likud Minister Gidon Saar, well after his connections with Im Tirtzu had been established. It is not clear why the evaluation was not conducted in 2008.

After doing a spot check by reading through several other reports (but not all, given the volume of material) this report seems unprecedented in various ways: Every report contains criticisms of the professional and academic aspects of each department, more or less severe or urgent. I was unable to locate a report that recommended shutting down the department.

If these changes are nevertheless not implemented, the majority of the committee believes that, as a last resort, Ben Gurion University should consider closing the Department of Politics and Government.

  • I was unable to find a report in any other field (I looked especially in the humanities – such as History, or Middle East studies) that says a word about political balance or bias.

…Is there a balance of views in the curriculum and the classroom?  Particularly, political science instructors should see to it that their own opinions are expressed as personal views so that students can take a critical perspective and that there is a broad exposure to alternative perspectives in order to widen and deepen their own understanding.

  • The leak and sensationalized news coverage of the report before it has been presented to the CHE smacks of a highly calculated PR campaign in the context of a full-out political onslaught against this department.

Recommendation: Shut down ‘leftist’ department” – Council for Higher Education committee says Ben Gurion University’s Politics Department politically biased.

  • No other report I found had a dissenting minority opinion that caused one of its members to repudiate the report itself.

Minority Opinion by Prof. Galia Golan: I agree with most everything in the Report with the exception of the section of the report on the Mission plus the two Recommendations emanating from this…There is also a reference to “balance [of views]…in the classroom.”  I am not certain who or how a “balance” might be determined, but I believe that such a demand runs directly counter to the principle of academic freedom, a basic principle of university education…I cannot agree with the recommendations that refer to “broad exposure to perspectives and alternatives” and “an effort that the program is perceived as balanced by the community concerned.”

Finally, one part of the report that somehow failed to appear in the Yediot story emphasized repeatedly that the faculty stress critical thinking, and the students are fully aware of this:

[students] were attracted to the Department because of its emphasis on activism…There was agreement that the courses emphasized critical thinking and activism.. They said that the political orientation of the faculty and of the courses was clear but that one was free to go to other courses and that students were encouraged to be critical even of the lecturers.

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    1. Piotr Berman

      It seems that PSaIR department of BGU is collectively guilty of the crime of Socrates: impiety and corruption of youth. If students are attracted, all the worse.

      On the other hand, Academia is about the defense of Socrates. At least, the people who walked through the grove of Academos rejected the notion that democratic majority may define what is pius and true and forbid ideas to the thinkers and educators.

      On the level of bureaucratic and political tactics, I wonder what are “these changes” that are so direly needed that the department should be dissolved in the absence of a reform. Somehow I doubt that they could demand in a frank language to fire the worst of the radicals and hire enough of loyal fascists (I mean, orthodox Zionists who would not encourage students to question everything, but instead to make necessary exceptions).

      Reply to Comment
    2. david goldman, esq.

      Dahlia seems to represent epitome of the detached and outright delusional contingent of radical left academia. Always stirring needless action and division.
      Beyond the wishful thinking of “peace” and “Arab democracy”, one could easily laugh. However when looking at the consequences of Oslo and the increased bloodshed, the reality becomes that much more dreadful. She seems to think Israel is in the same neighborhood as Switzerland.
      I have continually maintained that the biggest obstacle to Israel’s security is not the Arabs (which Israel can either defeat or contain with its technology or willpower) but with indulgent academic nonsense that comes from the likes of schiendlin and niv gordon (self hating ashkenazi jews par excellence).

      Reply to Comment
    3. Amir-Ras

      What is more delusanial, dreaming of peace and co-existance or thinking that any leftist still thinks Oslo were attempting to promote peace and co-existance.

      Reply to Comment
    4. AYLA

      @David Goldman Esq., who needs to put “esq” in his commenting name, for some reason… Curious: where do you live? I live in Israel, and teach at BGU. You seem to have no understanding of, or respect for, higher education and the basic tenets of critical thinking and learning in a University. For this is what this debate is actually about. Professors in the Political Science Department are not, in fact, trying to get their students to believe what they believe (whatever that is–each professor holds his/her own complex beliefs). Rather, they are asking their students to write in a way that is more evidenced, concrete, critical (truly), and logical. They’re comments to students, regardless of the students’ politics, reflect this, though I’m sure that plenty of students *feel* that it’s their beliefs that are not being tolerated.
      anyway, such as yourself, who lumps single thing that happens in the State of Israel into your ideology would probably be the kind of student who would respond way (as you have, here).

      Reply to Comment
    5. AYLA

      their comments, not they’re. i need to adhere to the commenting rules on this site and start proofreading…

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      anyone such as yourself, not anyway. so sorry, Dahlia. Will proofread in future.

      Reply to Comment
    7. ayla

      wow–there are more! and they seem to go beyond typos–entirely wrong/missing words! just: sorry. Hopefully you’ll get the gist, and I’ll improve my habits!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Henry Weinstein

      David Goldman Esq. should consider closing the Department of Out Of Topic Bullshit and Hate Speech in his mind.
      This book could save your mind, David:
      On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus at Princeton University, published by Princeton University Press.
      If symptoms persist, don’t kill your doctor

      Reply to Comment
    9. AYLA

      @Henry–:), and true. It’s amazing how it’s the actual haters (and hate usually begins with the self) who go around seeing everyone else that way. such an easy way to try to shut down discourse. Shameless. Sad. Boring. Depressing. Also, exactly what is at play at BGU, and in that sense, on topic :).

      Reply to Comment
    10. Henry Weinstein

      To Gidon Saar: Ayla teaches Creative Writing at BGU, not Proofreading.

      Reply to Comment