In 2011, as part of it routine procedure, the Israeli Council of Higher Education (CHE) has commissioned a professional committee to evaluate the academic standards of all political science departments in Israeli Universities. The CHE hired Prof. Thomas Risse from the Freie Universitat Berlin to chair the Committee for Quality Assessment of the Department of Government and Politics at Ben Gurion University. Prof. Gabriel Ben Dor, University of Haifa; Prof. Benjamin Jerry Cohen, University of California; Prof. Abraham Diskin, Hebrew University; Prof. Galia Golan, IDC; Prof. Ellen Immergut, Humboldt University Berlin; Prof. Robert Lieber, Georgetown University joined him on the panel. The report was scathing. The professional committee found the department long on political and community activism and short on core political science studies.
The report was leaked to Dahlia Scheindlin who published it in the press and triggered accusations of "right-wing witch hunt." In addition, the Department opened a website "Israeli Academia Under Attack" where it posted letters of support from the international community.
In its Defense, the Department published the following:
"This committee, whose members are praised as positivist and empiricist political scientists produced a report that was not only biased but erred on key facts, errors that facilitated its unprecedented conclusion – the department of Politics and Government, which was established purposefully in order to foster and advance interdisciplinary, critical and qualitative research (the kind of research which is currently under represented in all other political science departments in Israel) was instructed to introduce mainstream positivist political science into its research and curricula. Failing to do so, the Council of Higher Education should consider shutting it down. This evaluation, which was biased both politically and disciplinarily, was also based on basic factual errors. For example: The committee counted only 50% of the referreed articles published by department members. And while criticizing the department at BGU, they praised the department of political science at Tel-Aviv University which published the same amount of articles but have twice as many faculty members." The Department also blamed the evaluation for being biased
by, among others, trying to link one of its members to collaborating with the right-wing group Im Tirzu.
Instead of following the requests of the Committee for Quality Assessment, the department, along with the President and Dean, initiated an unprecedented attack against the CHE, that serves a high place in the later rounds of boycott calls against the Israeli higher education institutions.
After extensive pressure from the international academic community, including threats of boycott, the CHE essentially folded. Its threat to close the Department was withdrawn for a promise to hire more main stream, positivist scholars and faculty specializing in quantitative methods, deemed to be a particularly weak spot in the curriculum.
Four years later and not much has changed. The new hire from Exeter University, is Mansour Nasasra who co-edited a book in 2014 "The Naqab Bedouin and Colonialism brings together new scholarship to challenge perceived paradigms, often dominated by orientalist, modernist or developmentalist assumptions on the Naqab Bedouin" that includes a chapter by Ilan Pappe "The Forgotten Victims of the Palestine Ethnic Cleansing" ; A chapter by Safa Abu Rabia, "Land, Identity, and History: New Discourse on the Nakba of Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab"; and a chapter by Ahmad Amara "Colonialism, Cause Advocacy, and the Naqab Case", among others.
The department accepted three post doctorate scholars, two are Ariel Handel and Chen Misgav. Handel's publications include The Political Lexicon of the Social Protest (ed. in chief; Hakibutz Hameuchad, 2012) and Geographies of Occupation(Van Leer, forthcoming). Misgav's publications include "The Protest within the Protest? Political Spaces of Feminism and Ethnicities in the 2011 Israeli Protest Movement", Women's Studies International Forum (2015), and "Dirty dancing: The (non)fluid geographies of a queer night club in Tel Aviv", Social & Cultural Geography (2014).
It seems clear that the BGU Department of Politics and Government is not going to raise its academic standards as repeatedly requested by the Committee for Quality Assessment.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Department of Politics and Government> Postdoctoral scholars
Ariel Handel completed his Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University in 2011. His research interests are mobilities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, mapping and spatial representations, and the political philosophy of geography. He is the head of the "Space and Power: A Political Lexicon" research group at the Minerva Humanities Center, Tel Aviv University. His publications includeThe Political Lexicon of the Social Protest (ed. in chief; Hakibutz Hameuchad, 2012) and Geographies of Occupation (Van Leer, forthcoming).
Chen is a town planner and geographer. His work focuses on social and cultural geographies, working with communities, qualitative methodologies, spatial activism and social movements, feminist and queer geographies and identity politics. Chen graduated his MSc in the Town and Regional planning program at the Technion where he wrote his thesis on the perceptions and needs of LGBT people in the urban space of Tel-Aviv. He wrote his PhD in the department of Geography and Human environment and the PECLAB (Planning with Communities for the Environment) at Tel-Aviv University, Israel and his PhD research titled "Spatial Activism: Perspectives of Body, Identity and Memory" was conducted under the supervision of Prof. ToviFenster. Chen published some journal papers and book chapters in Hebrew, Italian and Englishand co-edited special issue of Hagar - Studies in Culture, Polity and Identities on gender and geography. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the department of Politics and Government in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Research Fellow in Minerva center for the Humanities in Tel-Aviv University.
שותפות לא ידועה
Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2012 5:54 PM
Below you find our statement on the CVs from BGU as agreed upon by Ellen and myself.
All the best, Thomas
The Sub-Committee for Quality Assessment of the CHE has asked us to look at the CVs of the new recruitments at Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government. We congratulate the department on successfully recruiting three new faculty members in the areas of comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory, and for its plans for a fourth recruitment next year. This has been recommended in the report of our Committee. In order to fulfill its deficits in mainstream political science, the department must ensure that these young scholars are given the time, resources, and mentoring to publish in top ranked international refereed journals and university presses, as well as to carry out the department's commitment to building a pluralistic curriculum. In addition, we believe that the department should increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments, as recommended by our committee.
Prof. Ellen Immergut
Prof. Thomas Risse
Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse
Research Center "Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood"
Prof. Haim Yacobi
Prof. Ahmad Sa'di
Dr. Ayelet Harel-Shalev (Affiliated Faculty)
Dr. Becky Kook
Prof. Dani Filc
Prof. David Newman
Dr. Dina Zisserman-Brodsky (Affiliated Faculty)
Dr. Gal Ariely
Dr. Jennifer Oser
Dr. Lynn Schler
Dr. Mansour Nasasra
Dr. Michal Givoni
Prof. Neve Gordon
Prof. Renee Poznanski
Prof. Sharon Pardo
Prof. Dr. Ellen Immergut
Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse
Comments on the Action Plan by the Department of Politics and Government of Ben Gurion University in Response to the Recommendation of the CHE Evaluation Committee
We sincerely appreciate the action plan submitted by the Rector and President on behalf of Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government. If this action plan is imple- mented, the Department of Politics and Government will have followed the main recommendations of the CHE Evaluation Committee of September 2011. This would constitute a major step in correcting the key issue that we emphasized in our report, namely that, based on the information the committee had been given in the Department’s Self-Evaluation Report and through presentations at its site visit, “the Department is too weak in its core discipline of political science in terms of number of faculty, curriculum, and research. The committee believes that this situation needs to be changed immediately and that the Department should institute major changes toward strengthening its disciplinary and methodological core through both hiring more faculty and altering its study programs.”
In the following, we comment on the various individual steps:
1. We thoroughly welcome Ben Gurion University’s commitment to hire four new faculty in the core areas of Political Science. This was the CHE Evaluation Committee’s most important recommendation and the university leadership has made the respective decisions. We would like to see, however, a more detailed description from the Department of Politics and Government of the specific fields covered by the new faculty. The Department’s response of October 2011 mentions that the plan for new recruitments “will focus on the core areas of the discipline, such as international relations, comparative politics, political thought, quantitative methods.” What fields will now be represented by the actual faculty being recruited?
2. We also appreciate the changes in the undergraduate core curriculum. It seems that all subfields of political science are now taught as core classes in the BA program. We still see some weaknesses in the methodology training, though, since quantitative and qualit- ative methods only appear to be taught as electives. In this context, we would like to see the syllabus of the “introduction to research methodologies” (as well as the syllabi of the other introductory courses).
3. The Department is also implementing our recommendation concerning internships as a required part of the curriculum. We also appreciate the syllabi of the internship courses, but recommend that they could be a bit more oriented toward the practical and political issues involved in those internships. This is particularly relevant for the syllabus on “Human Rights, Community, and Planning Policy in Israel” which appears rather abstract and meta-theoretical.
4. We have only one further comment on the MA program: Why is the methods training ap- parently confined to qualitative methods only, why are there no classes on statistical me- thods in the MA program?
5. With regard to research, the Department’s accomplishment in the area of research grants is nothing less than impressive in recent years. We appreciate these efforts and only wish that this information had been made available to the CHE Evaluation Committee during the site visit. With regard to publications, our report noted that there have been few publications in leading political science journals. On this point, we would request an updated list of publications (submitted and accepted).
6. We also take note of the fact that the Department is implementing our recommendation to increase cooperation with the Department of Public Policy.
7. With regard to political views and balance, we appreciate that the Dean has sent a letter to the faculty. However, we would like to ask the Department what efforts it is making to ensure that the curriculum, particularly the syllabi of the introductory courses, expresses a broad view of the field of political science, and how it plans to expose students to a variety of different perspectives.
About the attempts to close down the department of politics and government
On September 4th 2012 the sub-committee for quality control of the Israeli Council of Higher Education recommended that the department of Politics and Government at BGU be prevented from registering new students for the 2013-14 academic year. This recommendation — which, if implemented, will lead to the closure of the department — will be voted on by the CHE in its next general meeting, due to take place on October 23rd. Below we provide an overview of the events that led to the sub-committee’s decision.
The saga began when the Israeli Council of Higher Education established an international evaluation committee to scrutinize political science departments in Israel.
From the very beginning, the process was mired by irregularities. First, Prof. Ian Lustick, a prominent American political scientist from U of Penn and an internationally recognized expert on Israeli society and politics, was removed from the evaluation committee for unknown reasons. In response, the original committee chair, Prof. Robert Shapiro of Columbia University, resigned and the political science department at Hebrew University stopped cooperating with the committee. The committee was subsequently recomposed with Prof. Thomas Risse from Frei University in Berlin taking the helm (Risse was aware that the other people resigned and still took it on), and included such people as Israeli Prof. Avraham Diskin who had previously written articles in support of the radical right wing group Im Tirzu.
This committee, whose members are praised as positivist and empiricist political scientists produced a report that was not only biased but erred on key facts, errors that facilitated its unprecedented conclusion – the department of Politics and Government, which was established purposefully in order to foster and advance interdisciplinary, critical and qualitative research (the kind of research which is currently under represented in all other political science departments in Israel) was instructed to introduce mainstream positivist political science into its research and curricula. Failing to do so, the Council of Higher Education should consider shutting it down.
This evaluation, which was biased both politically and disciplinarily, was also based on basic factual errors. For example: The committee counted only 50% of the referreed articles published by department members. And while criticizing the department at BGU, they praised the department of political science at Tel-Aviv University which published the same amount of articles but have twice as many faculty members. Furthermore, in the original report the evaluation committee erroneously stated that faculty members have not published books in leading academic publishing houses, but the nine full-time faculty have, in fact, published six books in the three years prior to the report, of which three appeared in the top 10 academic publishing houses (California, Cornell, Columbia), two more with Routledge, and a sixth with the top press in France.
The excellent quality of scholarship members of the department have produced, and the fact that they are frequent and welcome guest at the best academic institutes (the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, the school of public health at Chicago, or Cambridge University) has found little echo in the report. The committee was also not impressed with the average grant per faculty member, which is over $100,000, a relatively high sum in the discipline, and perhaps the highest among political science departments in Israel. Finally, it ignored the fact that this fall graduates from the department are beginning their PhDs at universities like Columbia and Northwestern.
On the basis of such errors the committee under-evaluated the department in terms of individual merit, and could easily direct its criticism to the “excessive social activism” of its members – which means nothing but their leftist political leaning – and to the interdisciplinary ethos and of the department (where half of the faculty come from fields like political geography, public health, and history).
For obvious bureaucratic and political reasons, the administration of Ben Gurion University felt it had to comply with the report and directed the department to hire three faculty members in areas mentioned in the report: comparative politics, quantitative methods and political theory and to introduce some changes to the curriculum. Two international evaluators – Thomas Risse and Ellen M. Immergut, appointed by the Council to oversee the implementation of the report, wrote in a letter sent to the Council that they “congratulate the department on successfully recruiting three new faculty members in the areas of comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory, and for its plans for a fourth recruitment next year.” They called upon the University to allow these young scholars “the time, resources, and mentoring to publish in top ranked international refereed journals and university presses,” in a way that would help the department “fulfill its deficits in mainstream political science,” adding that “the department should increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments”. No criticism or sanctions were mentioned in this letter.
And yet, on September 4th 2012 a sub-committee within the Council of Higher Education followed this letter with a proposal to shut down the department because it failed to comply with the report of the international committee. The gap between the report filed by Risse and Immergut and the decision reached by the sub-committee of the Council of Higher Education underscores that this whole “evaluation process” has turned into a witch hunt, or was such a hunt in disguise from the beginning. For reasons which are difficult – or too easy? – to understand, the authors of the abovementioned letter, professors Risse and Immegut, have failed so far to clarify their opinion about the way their service to the Council of Higher Education has been abused so as to silence excellent academics some of whom happen to be identified as active members of the left in Israel.
Academic Freedom Attacked in Israel « Jeffrey C. Goldfarb's Deliberately Considered