Academics against the moves, initiated by Israel’s Council of Higher Education, to close down the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion

To: Mr. Gideon Sa’ar, Israeli Minister of Education



Dear Gideon Sa’ar,

We are writing as academics to express our grave concern about the moves, initiated by Israel’s Council of Higher Education, to close down the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, by preventing it from registering students from the start of the next academic year.

This attack on the Department quite transparently has nothing to do with the quality of its staff, or of their teaching or research. It has everything to do with the fact that some of them have publicly taken brave and locally unpopular political positions.
The manoeuvres undertaken to try to bring this closure about already bring discredit on the governance of the Israeli higher education system. Should they be successful in closing the Department, it will be a permanent stain on the reputation of Israel’s universities.

As Professor Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University, has written, the politically motivated closure of the Department “will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel”.
We call upon the Council of Higher Education to reject the recommendation of its Sub-Committee.

Dr Robert Boyce, London School of Economics
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics 


TO SIGNATORIES: 
PLEASE ADD YOUR ACADEMIC AFFILIATION AFTER YOUR NAME, IN THE FOLLOWING FORMAT :
TITLE FIRST-NAME LAST-NAME, ACADEMIC-INSTITUTION 
(e.g "Prof. Jane Doe, Department of Economics, Leeds University (retired)"

Links

Further information can be found at 

[the official evaluation report on Ben Gurion’s Department of Politics and Government]; 


[a critical analysis of the report]; 


[A detailed account of the process by Professor David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University]


-------------BACKGROUND-------------------


Political closure of an Israeli university department
URGENT REQUEST FOR SUPPORT
The Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University is under threat of closure. The Department’s staff of 9 include some of the bravest and most outspoken of Israel’s internal academic critics, of whom the best known internationally is Professor Neve Gordon.

By all the usual assessment criteria the Department performs not merely as well as but considerably better than similar departments at Israeli universities. The motivation for this closure move is not academic, it is political.  If it succeeds all dissident academics at Israeli universities will feel vulnerable.

Background information on this extraordinary affair is provided below. (More information is available on request.) 

We are asking you to put your signature, as an academic, to the attached letter. The Council for Higher Education will very soon decide on a motion for closure, so time is of the essence. We plan to send this letter to Israel’s Minister of Education and all members of the Council no later than October 9th. 

To sign, access http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/academics-to-gideon-saar/

Please enter your title (Prof/Dr.) and academic institution. 

Please forward this message to likely sympathisers.
Factsheet on the proposed closure 
Last year Israel’s Council of Higher Education (CHE) Sub-Committee for overseeing and evaluating teaching quality set up an apparently routine review of the country’s political science departments, and established an evaluation committee with international members. All 8 departments in the country received some criticism. 

However from the beginning the process became mired in irregularities. Professor Ian Lustick, an internationally recognised expert on Israeli society and politics at the University of Pennsylvania was removed from the evaluation committee for unknown reasons.  As a result the original committee chair, Professor Robert Shapiro of Columbia University, resigned. The evaluation committee was then recomposed, with Professor Thomas Risse of Berlin’s Free University as chair.
 The evaluation committee recommended several changes in the Ben-Gurion department, the most significant of which were to increase the number of staff, and to introduce more mainstream (positivist, quantitative) material into the curriculum.  The committee also criticised the “excessive social activism” of staff members. The department, in cooperation with two members of the international evaluation committee (one of whom was Professor Risse), swiftly implemented the principal recommendations. The evaluation committee expressed itself satisfied, and indeed congratulated the university on the department's constructive response.

However early in September the CHE Sub-Committee ignored this report from its evaluation committee, and instead decided that the Department should be prevented from registering students from the 2013-4 academic year – tantamount to a closure order. This decision comes up for confirmation at the full meeting of CHE on October 23rd.
These events have not taken place in a vacuum. There has been a long-standing and aggressive campaign against the department for its members’ outspokenness about the occupation and its consequences. Professor Gordon attracted particular venom for an article he wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2009 supporting the movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. In 2010 Im Tirtzu,an extreme Zionist organisation based largely in the illegal settlements of the Occupied West Bank, issued an open letter demanding that Ben-Gurion University stop the "anti-Zionist bias" in its Department of Politics and Government. The letter alleged that 9 out of 11 teachers in the department were involved in subversive left-wing activities. Indeed it is plausible to see the very establishment of the review of Israel’s political science departments as a response to the Im Tirtzu attack. 

Professor Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University, has written an open letter to Israel’s academic community about this unprecedented attack on academic freedom. If the closure decision is upheld by CHE, she warns, it “will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel”. Her full message is reproduced below. Further information can be found at 
http://che.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Ben-Gurion-Report.pdf
[the official evaluation report on Ben Gurion’s Department of Politics and Government]; 
http://isacademyunderattack.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/inaccuracies-and-fallacies-of-the-report-submitted-by-the-international-evaluation-committee-on-the-department-of-politics-and-government/
[a critical analysis of the report]; and
http://toal.org/2012/09/19/david-newman-on-the-assault-on-politics-government-at-ben-gurion-university/
[A detailed account of the process by Professor David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University]

-- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. Rivka Carmi

September 19, 2012 

Dear Fellow Members of the Israeli Academic and Research Community, 

I am writing you in my capacity as the President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and as the head of the Israeli University Presidents' Forum. Something unprecedented has recently occurred in Israeli academia. For the first time, the Council of Higher Education's sub-committee for overseeing and evaluating teaching quality has recommended that a department—in this case the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University—not be allowed to open student registration for the 2013-14 academic year. For all intents and purposes, this is a decision to close down a university department in Israel. This extreme decision was reached not due to any unusual incident or a severe act, or because demands made by the Council of Higher Education were not met. Thus, the following description should worry everyone who cares about Israeli academia. 

Over a year ago, the Council of Higher Education appointed an international evaluation committee that was responsible for assessing political science departments in Israel. As you know, these kinds of evaluations are routine, and the Council of Higher Education carries out these assessments on a regular basis in order to evaluate academic departments in all universities. The aforementioned report included criticism of all the political science departments in Israel. 

As part of its work, the evaluation committee recommended in the report submitted to the Council of Higher Education that the Department of Politics and Government implement a series of changes. The most significant recommendations involved increasing the number of faculty members in the department and expanding its curriculum so as to cover more core courses within the discipline. 
Responding to these recommendations, the university, in close cooperation with the department, the Council of Higher Education, and two members of the international evaluation committee who had been appointed by the Council of Higher Education to oversee the next stages of the process, hired three new faculty members and updated the department's curriculum. These changes, which were made in record time, were consistent with the recommendations of the Council of Higher Education’s evaluation committee and elicited a positive written response from the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. 

In light of these developments, we were astonished to discover that the Council of Higher Education's sub-committee discussed the same issue once again and published a new decision, extreme in it severity, which is totally at odds with the evaluation written by the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the process. 

Just as had happened with the first professional report over a year ago, the sub-committee's decision was also leaked to the press even before the university’s top administrators had been apprised of the meeting’s results. I am sure you remember the public discussion and the accusations waged against the university as a result of that initial leak to the press. We are currently experiencing the repercussions of the second leak. 

As people deeply committed to academic freedom, we have been watching the Council of Higher Education’s recent move with dread and apprehension, but we are also determined to fight this resolution. The sub-committee's decision was reached without any factual base to back it up; it is unreasonable and disproportional, and, most importantly, it does not in any way reflect the opinion of the international committee which oversaw the process. We therefore wonder what is actually behind this decision. 

This struggle is not only about Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but rather it is a struggle of the entire Israeli academic community. Just the routine leaking to the press of ostensibly academic decisions serves as a warning sign. The approval of this decision by the Council of Higher Education [expected in October] will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel. 
At a time when we are witnessing increasing threats to Israeli academia from abroad and from within, I ask for your help and support in warding off these dangerous developments that are unfolding before our eyes. 

Sincerely, 
Prof. Rivka Carmi 
President


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