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Hebrew University
Yaacov Bergman addresses Michael Walzer [HUJ Governor]: you were dead wrong on the facts!
Michael Walzer, you were dead wrong on the facts!

To  Michael Walzer

      Professor Emeritus 

      School of Social Science

      Institute for Advanced Study

      Princeton, NJ, USA

Copies to 

Officers of the American Political Science Association

Officers of the American Sociology Association

Members of the Israel Council of Higher Education

Members of the Israeli social science academic community

many others

From Yaacov Bergman

           School of Business

           The Hebrew University

June 5, 2013

Dear Michael Walzer,

On October 2, 2012, you wrote a letter to then Education Minister Gidon Saar and to the vice chairman of the Council for Higher Education (CHE), Dr. Shimshon Shoshany, urging them to prevent the CHE from discharging its duties as the Israeli regulator of higher education with regard to the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University. Your letter is copied below within my detailed public response to you of October 21, 2012, which you have not had the integrity to answer. In your public letter, you wrote:

There doesn’t seem to be any plausible academic reason for the decision, which is not consistent with the reports of your own committee of international experts [ ]. The closing of the department looks like a political purge by a government that doesn’t understand what universities are for.

Well, Michael Walzer, you were dead wrong on the facts! 

On October 30, 2012, the CHE sub-committee on quality assurance heard the appeal by the Ben-Gurion University administration during which procedure the chairman of the committee of international experts, Prof Thomas Risse, said thus, according to the minutes [protocol] of that session:

Prof. Thomas Risse: "When the news broke in the newspaper, I immediately went to the press and said that it is an academic issue. The evaluating committee had no intention of getting into a political fight." [ ] "The university hired people who are essentially "more of the same". Most work in one cluster of topics, and political science should be broader. It has nothing to do with politics. They need people in core fields."

Moreover, an investigation that I personally conducted into the matter revealed that the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University was founded and has been maintained by deplorable methods. I wrote an investigative article, which "Haaretz" newspaper published, that summarizes my findings. I urge you, Michael Walzer, and the other recipients of this letter to you, to read the translation into English of that published article which I am copying below. When you read it, please notice the role played in the dishonest plot by your host at the Hebrew University next week, Avner De-Shalit. I should also mention that the Editor in Chief of "Haaretz" newspaper Aluf Benn promised to let De-Shalit respond to my findings, but De-Shalit has never done so, even when he was personally invited to speak at a conference devoted to the issue. Indeed, the facts in the article speak for themselves.

You should also know that following the rejection of its appeal to the CHE and following my revelations in the published article below, the Ben-Gurion administration submitted a letter to the CHE in which it agreed to perform according to all the CHE directives concerning its Department of Politics "precisely as phrased by the CHE and according to their spirit."

More importantly, you and others who wrote baseless protest letters concerning this affair should know that your uncalled for involvement has damaged the academic quality assurance process in Israel, as will soon become clear with regard to that process as it has been applied to the Israeli sociology departments, some of which share the characteristics of the substandard BGU Department of Politics. This is, indeed, the main reason that I am writing to you and to the many other recipients; to inform you that baseless protests are not innocuous. They can and do harm!

Michael Walzer, after you read my following "Haaretz" investigative article, and you appreciate the facts revealed therein, I expect you to write a public letter to [currently] Interior Minister Gidon Saar and to the vice chairman of the Council for Higher Education (CHE), Dr. Shimshon Shoshany, acknowledging that you had been totally mistaken in writing your baseless protest letter to them.




Op-Ed   01.23.2013

There Was No Persecution

by Yaacov Bergman 

(Translation of the original Hebrew text)

The Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University was at the focus of a heated public debate in recent months. The Quality Assurance Committee of the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE) deemed inadequate the corrective actions taken by the university administration in response to the requirements set forth by the international academic audit committee. Inter alia, the audit committee determined that ever since its inception, the department's curriculum has lacked the core studies in political science.

Many blamed the CHE and its chair, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, of acting contrary to the audit committee's recommendations. They also claimed that branding the academic quality of the department as substandard was only a disguise for a political persecution campaign against the faculty of the department, who are known for their loud criticism of the Israeli government policies ("Trial of the CHE," Haaretz editorial, 10/30/12).

But during the appeal of the university administration against the decision of the CHE in October 2012, Professor Thomas Risse, the political scientist from Germany who chaired the international audit committee, made it clear that himself and his committee members have supported the decision of the CHE to disallow new students from registering to study at the inadequate department. Risse also listed during the appeal session a series of significant department deficiencies, which still need to be addressed.

The affair began in 2001, when Ben-Gurion University administration requested of the CHE to allow the Department of Politics and Government to confer the BA degree upon its students. For that purpose, the CHE commissioned two experts to review the department; one was Professor Zeev Maoz, a leading political scientist, and the other was Professor Avner De-Shalit.  Maoz describes himself as a proud leftist, an attribute that has also been reflected in his op-eds, which should rule out any claims of political bias by him against the department. 

Maoz wrote in his report: "No faculty member of the department has done any research in the core of the profession" and, therefore, "its faculty is in no position to provide the required scientific training to undergraduates in a research university." Accordingly, Maoz recommended rejecting the university request. In contrast, the other reviewer, De-Shalit, approved the department's petition; effectively granting the Department an exemption from teaching the core curriculum in political science.

In his response to the CHE, then BGU Provost Nachum Finger agreed with the harsh conclusions of the Maoz report, and wrote: "Surely, without the core curriculum it will not be possible to create a basic program for those interested in studying political science."

One would have expected that following this, the university would rush to fill the academic void. But this has not transpired. Instead, in 2003, the CHE appointed a committee of three members to re-review the department, ostensibly in order to decide between the two conflicting reports, by Maoz and by De-Shalit. Yet, against all logic and integrity, out of all political scientists that could have been chosen to adjudicate between the two conflicting reports, the CHE picked the biased De-Shalit to head the committee. Indeed, De-Shalit should have refused the appointment, but he has not, and, as expected, recommended the same as he did in his 2001 review.

Eight more years elapsed during which the department existed sans the core curriculum in political science, until in 2011, when it was subjected to a routine review by an international audit committee on behalf of the current CHE, whose composition is now completely different from that of the 2003 CHE. The international audit committee found the same academic vacuum that Profesor Maoz unearthed ten years before, and recommended to the university administration — which is ultimately responsible for the department's condition — that if the department does not hurry to fill the curricular void, disciplinary actions will be taken in order to put an end to the fraud perpetuated against the public and students, who were "trained" lacking the necessary academic core curriculum.

To add insult to to injury, one of the three members of the 2003 De-Shalit committee, who did not see the need to amend the deficiencies of the substandard department of politics, was Professor Gad Barzilai, currently the dean of the Haifa University Law School. But lo and behold, of all available social scientists, the BGU administration picked the same Barzilai as a sole external supervisor over the corrective actions required by the CHE. In other words, the university administration sold the game a second time; it appointed Barzilai in 2011 to implement corrective actions that himself deemed in 2003 to be unnecessary. The Ben-Gurion University probably assumed that the current CHE will respond similarly to how previous CHEs have, and will again turn a blind eye.

To the surprise of the university and of those who became used to the tricks played by former CHEs; the current CHE, which was not aware of the two previous maneuvers concerning the department, found the supervision of Professor Barzilai to be very problematic and — backed by the international audit committee — it rejected the corrective actions supervised by Barzilai as inadequate.

The decision of the CHE Sub-Committee for Quality Assurance — after hearing the appeal of the university administration in October 2012 — communicated to the press that "the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University still lacks the fundamental capacities required in the core subjects of theoretical approaches and research methods in political science." In other words, the Department still lacks the core curriculum, and should not continue to exist as an academic department in its current substandard state.

The chain of events related herein demonstrates that the accusations leveled against the CHE and its chair, of politically persecuting the department, is baseless. Moreover, the questionable conduct described herein and in many other instances, demonstrates the need in the public interest, for a fundamental structural reform in the Israeli higher education system and in its regulation.

Dr. Bergman is involved in reforms of the Israeli higher education system 

[October 21, 2012]

Response to Michael Walzer's protest letter 

to the Minister of Education of Israel

and a request for data in Walzer's possession

To  Michael Walzer

      Professor Emeritus 

      School of Social Science

      Institute for Advanced Study

      Princeton, NJ, USA

Copies to 

Minister of Education of Israel Gidon Saar

Members of the Israel Council of Higher Education

Members of the Israeli social science academic community

Members of the American Political Science Association

Members of the American Sociology Association

Media professional who follow and publish about the debate

Editorial Board of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ, US

From Yaacov Bergman

School of Business

The Hebrew University

October 21, 2012

Is political science non-scientific?

Which are the 'many departments,'
and of what academic quality are they?

A response to Michael Walzer's protest letter

Dear Professor (emeritus) Walzer,

You recently wrote a letter to the Minister of Education of Israel, which I copied below, protesting the recommendation of the subcommittee on Academic Quality Assurance to the Israeli Council of Higher Education to bar new students from enrolling in Ben-Gurion University (BGU) Department of Politics and Government; an action aimed at inducing the university administration to take the measures necessary to enhance the department's academic quality.

Part 1: Is political science non-scientific?

In your said letter you revealed to many Israeli academics and surprised them greatly that Political Science, "despite its name," as yourself phrased it, is NOT a science, and need not obey accepted scientific standards. You went on to characterize the BGU department as being dominated by the non-scientific critical perspective within Political (non-) Science, and you further claimed that there exist many American non-scientific political science departments similar to the one at BGU.

In doing so, you gave the impression of a static, peaceful coexistence within Political Science between the scientific method and the non-scientific critical perspective; resembling the coexistence as entwined academic disciplines of Astronomy and Astrology in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries European universities before the scientific method defeated and banished Astrology from academe, leaving celestial mechanics as the sole academic endeavor in the astronomy departments of universities.  

In contrast, I would like to submit to you and to the many addressees of my response letter three independent testimonies to the effect that the impression you gave is misleading, and that Political Science is in a state of flux from the non-scientific to the scientific; indeed, in the mature stages of that flux.

Testimony 1: In their data based book, Restructuring the University: Worldwide Shifts in Academia in the 20th Century (2006, Stanford University Press), DJ Frank and J Gable state (p.122): "As was true of economics, the apparatus of political science came to pivot to an exceptional extent on rationalized human action capacities, and thus like economics, political science proved particularly receptive to rational choice theory." Needless to say that rational choice theory dwells well within the scientific perspective, and is diametrically opposed to the critical, non-scientific perspective dominating the UBG department.

Testimony 2: On May 19, 2002,The New York Times published an article, "The Last Sociologist," by Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociology professor, in which he bitterly lamented the recent transformation of sociology from the non-scientific to the scientific. In his NYT article which I copied below, Patterson wrote: "[Sociologists'] need to test hypotheses, build models and formulate laws forces them into an emphasis on the organizational aspects of culture, which can be reduced to data suitable for 'scientific' analysis. [ ] Sociology is hardly alone in this pseudo[?? YB]-scientific narrowing of purpose and methods on the nation's campuses. Many political science departments, for example, have been hijacked [!!, YB] by 'rational choice' theorists who disdain the study of political beliefs and culture." 

Support to the factual assertion of Professor Patterson that Sociology has become scientific can be gleaned from the letter of protest to the Minister of Education of Israel by the President of the American Sociological Association Cecilia L. Ridgeway, who is careful to describe her association in her letter as not merely an academic association, but rather as a scientific association.

Testimony 3: In Jon R. Bond (2007), The Scientification of the Study of Politics: Some Observations on the Behavioral Evolution in Political Science, Journal of Politics, pages 897–907, the author writes: "We call our discipline 'political science.' The term 'science' implies use of the scientific method. In modern usage (since the 18th century), science is a method of learning based on systematic observation using the scientific method. It is a method of learning different from the arts. The 'scientification of the study of politics' refers to the process through which political science as an academic discipline has come to use the scientific method for the production and dissemination of knowledge about politics." Bond goes on to write: "I propose to outline some landmarks in the scientification of political science, paying attention not only to the growing use of the scientific method, but also to the development of theory (in the empirical, scientific sense)." 

Let me reiterate and contrast. Michael Walzer, you wrote to the Minister of Education of Israel as well as to many others that political science, despite its name, is not a scientific discipline. But in stark contrast, JR Bond writes in a published paper in a peer reviewed political science journal that the reason that political science is called so is because the discipline uses the scientific method. Wouldn't you agree, Michael Walzer, that the Minister of Education of Israel as well as the multitude who read your protest letter to him deserve an explanation?

To recap, three independent sources, one friend of the scientific method in political science (Jon R Bond); one foe of that method (Orlando Patterson); and one neutral (Frank and Gable); all give the same testimony, that political science has shifted to an exceptional extent from the non-scientific to the scientific, while you, Michael Walzer gave us the opposite impression. Whom should we believe?

Part 2: Which are the 'many departments' 

              that are dominated by the critical, non-scientific perspective,
           and of what academic quality are they?

Professor (emeritus) Walzer, in your protest letter you also wrote that the "[non-scientific] critical perspective of the Ben-Gurion department isn’t unique to it; there are many departments of politics and government in Europe and the United States with a similar perspective."

Can I ask you to graciously provide me with the list of those departments in the United States. 

This is how your list of departments would help the debate. 

Once I receive your list of those critical perspective departments, I will identify which of them also appear among the 105 political science departments that were recently ranked by the National Research Council. (To my Israeli readers: The National Research Council (NRC) of the USA is the working arm of the National Academies of the United States, carrying out most of the studies done in their names.)


To give an idea of how the NRC ranking looks like, I copied below the top four political science departments in that ranking according to "Research High" which is derived from faculty publications, citation rates, grants, and awards. (One just clicks on that heading in the Chronicle of Higher Education web page, and the 105 departments re-rank themselves accordingly.)

Once you provide the list I am asking for, it will be possible to see whether the critical perspective political science departments concentrate in the high research quality range in that ranking, or whether they concentrate in the low range, or whether they are more or less evenly distributed throughout the ranking. In light of the decisive shift of the political science discipline to the scientific perspective described in Part 1 above, my hypothesis is that the non-scientific political science departments would tend to cluster in the lower end of the NRC ranking of that discipline.

Your response to my questions and to my request is eagerly awaited by many within Israel and without.


-Yaacov Bergman

Michael Walzer's letter to Minister of Education Gidon Saar




Telephone: (609) 734-8253 Fax: (609) 951-4457 e-mail: walzer@ias.edu 


School of Social Science 

October 2, 2012 

Gidon Saar, Minister of Education, State of Israel 

Dr. Shimshon Shoshany, Council for Higher Education 

Dear Mr. Saar and Dr. Shoshany, 

I am writing to urge you to reconsider and revoke the Council for Higher Education’s decision to bar new students from enrolling in Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government—a decision, in effect, to close the department. There doesn’t seem to be any plausible academic reason for the decision, which is not consistent with the reports of your own committee of international experts or with the reputation of the department and the publication record of its members. 

Political science, despite its name, is not an objective discipline. There is no way of writing about politics that doesn’t “lean” in one direction or another. The critical perspective of the Ben-Gurion department isn’t unique to it; there are many departments of politics and government in Europe and the United States with a similar perspective. 

The closing of the department looks like a political purge by a government that doesn’t understand what universities are for. It has already called forth significant international criticism—for the obvious reason that academic freedom is a universal interest and a universal value. I join these other critics, and I assure you that there will be many more of us. 

The decision is not only morally culpable; it is also, if I may say so, politically foolish. The academic world is not, despite some alarmist reports, hostile to Israel, but there is hostility in some parts of it, and your decision, if it isn’t revoked, will make the work of those of us who defend Israel in the American academy much harder than it needs to be. 


Michael Walzer

Professor (emeritus) of Social Science

The Last Sociologist 

The New York Times 

May 19, 2002, Sunday

By Orlando Patterson

Orlando Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard and author of "Rituals of Blood," the second volume of a trilogy on race relations. 

"The Lonely Crowd," the book for which David Riesman is best known, was published more than half a century ago. It remains not only the best-selling book by a professional sociologist in American history, but arguably one that has had the widest influence on the nation at large. The work of Mr. Riesman, who died May 10, inevitably raises questions about the claims and limitations of academic sociology today. 

In "The Lonely Crowd" and other works, Mr. Riesman provided middle-class Americans with a sharply focused view of their major cultural preoccupations. Then as now, Americans were concerned about the threat to personal freedom posed by the conformism and homogeneity inherent in mass-consumption society. They longed for connection in their pursuit of suburban affluence. They struggled with the contradictory tendency of capitalist individualism to undermine other forms of individualism through a ruthless "ethic of callousness" and celebration of greed. And they tried to reconcile their autonomy with genuine compassion. He also gave the nation a vocabulary for the discussion of what his graceful prose had seduced them to gaze at. In "The Lonely Crowd," he analyzed the anxieties of American life, identifying the ways in which individuals and groups responded to the fast-changing postwar culture. 

And yet David Riesman died discarded and forgotten by his discipline. Even Harvard's department of sociology, which he had served for over 30 years, recently discontinued a lecture series named for him after only two years. I gave the last David Riesman lecture in October 2000. It was, I think, the last public event David attended, and he was very happy about it. As he was my mentor, so was I. 

The dishonoring of David Riesman, and the tradition of sociology for which he stood, is not a reflection of their insignificance. It is merely a sign of the rise in professional sociology of a style of scholarship that mimics the methodology and language of the natural sciences -- in spite of their inappropriateness for the understanding of most areas of the social world. 

Anxious to achieve the status of economics and the other "soft sciences," the gatekeepers of sociology have insisted on a style of research and thinking that focuses on the testing of hypotheses based on data generated by measurements presumed to be valid. This approach works reasonably well for the study of certain subjects like demographics in which there is stability in the variables studied. Business schools, for example, have increasingly turned to organizational sociologists for a more realistic interpretation of the behavior of firms than that provided by economists. [Is that true? What is the evidence on this surprising change of heart? YB]

Unfortunately, for most areas of social life -- especially those areas in which the general public is interested -- the methods of natural science are not only inappropriate but distorting. (It is important to note here that the issue is not the use of statistics. Mr. Riesman encouraged their use where appropriate.) 

Americans tend to be highly skeptical of generalizations of social interaction. Yet they are deeply interested in knowing what is distinctive about their patterns of behavior, beliefs and values. They welcome attempts to understand what forces in society influence them to act the way they do. Another great sociologist and a contemporary of Mr. Riesman, Erving Goffman, gave them just that in books like "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life."

These two scholars -- and others like C. Wright Mills, William F. Whyte, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer and Peter Berger -- practiced a sociology different in both style and substance from that of today. It was driven first by the significance of the subject and second by an epistemological emphasis on understanding the nature and meaning of social behavior. This is an understanding that can only emerge from the interplay of the author's own views with those of the people being studied. 

These writers, following an earlier tradition, pursued big issues like the cultural contradictions of capitalism, the role of religion in economic life, the problems of America's melting-pot ideology, the nature of civil society and the virtues and dangers of patriotism. But they also painted on small canvases, offering us insights into American rituals of interaction in public and private places. They wrote about the ways we avoid each other, the ravages of stigma, the search for honor behind the behavior of young men in gangs on street corners. Their ideas became pervasive, entering the language with terms like "inner-directed," "power elite" and "masking techniques." 

Mr. Riesman, in particular, was a pioneer in the study of popular culture, writing brilliantly on the role of the car and of comics. A landmark essay he wrote 50 years ago on youth and pop music was recently reissued in a definitive collection of essential readings on the rock 'n' roll revolution. Even in the world of music criticism, Mr. Riesman was considered relevant. 

Today, when mainstream sociologists write about culture they disdain as reactionary any attempt to demonstrate how culture explains behavior. And their need to test hypotheses, build models and formulate laws forces them into an emphasis on the organizational aspects of culture, which can be reduced to data suitable for "scientific" analysis. 

Thus in much of modern sociology one learns little or nothing about literature or art or music or religion, even in sociologies that purport to study these subjects. Mainstream sociology eschews any exploration of human values, meanings and beliefs because ambiguities and judgment are rarely welcomed in the discipline now. 

Americans are as eager today for analysis of how they live as they were when Mr. Riesman wrote "The Lonely Crowd." Now as then, they want to be informed (in a language they can understand) about their beliefs and cultural practices. 

Since mainstream sociology has abandoned this important mission, the intellectual vacuum has been filled by legions of scholars, mainly from the humanities, and commentators in the press. Most have little insight into social, political or cultural issues. In the academy, they have made a frightening intellectual mess of so-called cultural studies. In the popular culture, Americans who want informed sociological essays and thoughtful reflections turn to literary commentators or, less helpfully, to writers of self-help books or hosts of television talk shows. 

Sociology is hardly alone in this pseudo-scientific narrowing of purpose and methods on the nation's campuses. Many political science departments, for example, have been hijacked by "rational choice" theorists who disdain the study of political beliefs and culture. There are occasional hopeful signs pointing in other directions, often in small journals or quarterlies published by academic departments or individuals committed to independent thought. 

It is that independence, that confidence in ideas, that is most lacking in the academy now. About this, too, Mr. Riesman had something to say. To participate in public life, as anyone who does so knows, requires something he called "the nerve of failure" and defined as "the courage to face aloneness and the possibility of defeat in one's personal life or one's work without being morally destroyed." 

David Riesman had that nerve. Would that more in the academy did. 

Yaacov Bergman, PhD                      
School of Business                  
The Hebrew University           
Jerusalem 91905, Israel        

Voice:  (+972)-2-648-0269  
Mobile:  054-455-6261
email: Yaacov.Bergman@huji.ac.il

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