On May 18, Ben-Gurion University held a day-long conference on academic freedom and responsibility. Of the many speakers, only one seemed a non-leftist. [What does that indicate about the state of academic freedom there?]
The near-consensus was that professors have a right to promote their views and hire instructors not for their qualifications but for their ideology, while critics do not have a right to monitor this and question whether such behavior and the results fulfill the University’s function. If instruction is based on opinions and not scholarship, what is its value, why should it be left unmonitored or allowed, and why grant professors tenure and not rotate their jobs among office clerks?
The conference view was that leftist professors may seek, without standards of scholarship, to indoctrinate students against Jewish sovereignty, without private and public underwriters of universities being informed of it. Thus the conference did not take up academic freedom, it advocated academic irresponsibility.
Two billion dollars a year is spent on higher education in Israel. No transparency allowed? Conference sentiment opposed public effort against mismanagement of funds reported by the State Comptroller.
Why should donors to what they think are Zionist universities not know that their money really supports anti-Zionism? The conferees tried to evade this issue, making the conference self-serving. Exposes of anti-Israel academic abuse has caused donors to reduce contributions to Ben-Gurion University.
[Unlike Israeli universities, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. are “…managed by boards of governors, not by their faculty. The governors have fostered world-class excellence by insisting that funds be used efficiently to attract the most talented scholars in every field, and dictating the ruthless weeding out of the merely competent. However, there was no place at the conference table for this point of view.”
Most Israeli university social studies departments pursue the agenda of Israel’s post-Zionists: They seek to persuade “Jewish Israelis that their own state and nationalism are illegitimate.” [Like the NY Times, they don’t present the facts, they seek to mold public opinion.]
Prof. Neve Gordon added silliness to malevolence. He contended that Israel lacks academic freedom, because the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) lacks academic freedom, because the IDF closed some of its colleges for promoting terrorism. Is terrorism protected by academic freedom? What has academic freedom in the P.A. to do with academic freedom in Israel? [When P.A. colleges are open, what would happen to students to denounced terrorism and upheld peace? They’d need life insurance. They don’t have academic freedom, because they have a religious dictatorship.]
Finally, the noted Prof. Amnon Rubinstein set some realistic standards for what academic freedom should not cover: (1) Activities that harm the institution, such as its boycott; (2) Activity to harm the country, such as its boycott and divestment; and (3) Hate propaganda based on historical falsification.
In a slap at the other conferees, Prof. Rubinstein suggested a university duty to harbor a diversity of opinion (Dr. Yitzchak Klein). That would be a worthy goal for American universities focused only on ethnic diversity.
Students have a right to an objective education and to know what quality of education is being offered.
Monitoring could go too far. It hasn’t there. What has gone too far is the enthronement of non-factual, anti-Zionist, ideological indoctrination. I see two levels in this controversy: (1) Instruction should be based on the facts, so students are informed enough to reach their own conclusions; and (2) Diverse opinion may then follow but not be imposed. Israeli ideologues ignore the facts, just give opinion, and their opinions reflect almost no diversity.
The modern world is too dangerous militarily and financially for a country to allow education to be entire subjective and monopolized by one view, a subversive one at that.