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General Articles
Internal Problems of the Council of Higher Education (CHE)


Editorial Note

In a recent, unprecedented move, Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Education and chair of the Council of Higher Education (CHE) dismissed Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron from her position as the vice-chair. Messer-Yaron who had only one more year left to serve, is a highly respected scholar; she was on the faculty of Engineering at TAU and later served as the president of the Open University. Bennett replaced her with Dr. Rivka Madmany-Shauman, also a member of the CHE, but a junior academic from a non-research institution, Hakibutzim College for Education.

Bennett's move created a firestorm among Israeli scholars who objected to the politization of the CHE and the replacement of a prestigious scholar with a low ranked academic from a teachers college.

Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of the Hebrew University was interviewed for Israeli radio about this case. He said the Bennett's step is unethical, even if only one year is left for the current CHE members, still, Madmany-Shauman is not a professor and has no background in management. Ben-Sasson stated that he believes Bennett decided not to implement the decisions by the Messer-Yaron Committee report on higher education governance and therefore dismissed her. 

Some, like Moshe Shokeid, a professor of sociology, went overboard, writing in the social science forum that this is the "End of innocence, fascism is standing at the gate and the campus will say we have not seen or heard anything." In a more measured tone, Mota Kremnitzer, a law professor noted: "Because Dr. Wadmany is lacking the necessary academic status to function, it is clear that most members of the CHE contributed to this aggressive, arbitrary, illegal move, that tramples the autonomy of higher education, which the CHE is responsible for."

As the article below indicates, professors from Weizmann Institute sent a letter to Bennett, protesting: “As scientists we first must care for the good of society, science and the country. And it is with this in mind that we would like to express our doubt and worry that we fear we may lose this important asset.” Professor David Newman wrote in his weekly column in the Jerusalem Post, accusing the right-wing government for lowering the standards of the higher education.
Making it a right-left issue is wrong, but Newman is right on one thing, the standards of the higher education system in Israel have gone down and recent Ministers of Education, including Bennett's predecessor, Shai Piron, had done nothing to address it.

Contemporary higher education is highly competitive and universities world-wide are evaluated by a number of international ranking services such as QS; Multirank; Times Higher Education powered by Thomson Reuters, among others. 

Ranking are crucial in the global academic and economic infrastructure.   For instance, the EU uses its Multiranking Index to allocate millions of euros for scientific project.  Other grant-making organizations like the U.S. based National Science Foundation are also known to consider the institutional base of scholars in addition to the individual merits of their proposals. 
Indeed, the comparative ranking of Israeli universities provides an overall picture of decline, as the table below shows.  This ranking is provided by the Times Higher Education Index, but other services paint a fairly similar picture.
There is no doubt that even the top Israeli universities do not measure up to the top Western ones.  But, in what comes as a real shock, some Asian universities have surpassed the Israeli ones.
Neither the Ministry of Education nor the CHE have addressed the issue of plunging scores.  The current crisis is a good opportunity to launch a real debate on the issue.  Strong academic leadership at the top of the CHE representing prestigious research institutions is sorely needed.

Source: Times Higher Education University Ranking (Low scores mean high ranking)

University of Tokyo
Seoul National University
University of Cape Town
Hebrew University Jerusalem
Tel Aviv University
Bar-Ilan University
Ben-Gurion University
University of Haifa


Weizmann Institute ‘worried’ by Bennett’s ‘meddling’

JANUARY 10, 2016 BY  
Professor Michal Irani, Head of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Math at the Weizmann Institute, sent a letter to the Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, in response to his decision to appoint Rivka Wadmany Shauman as the vice chairwoman for the Council for Higher Education of Israel. 
Shauman is currently a council member and head of planning and development at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College; she is slated to replace the recently deposed Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron.
“In the name of the scientists at the Weizmann Institute, we wish to inform you that we are worried about the future quality of academic education and research in Israel. We are approaching not as representatives of a specific sector or segment of the country, but rather as scientists to whom the quality of scientific research is our first and foremost priority,” said Irani in the letter.
“As scientists we first must care for the good of society, science and the country. And it is with this in mind that we would like to express our doubt and worry that we fear we may lose this important asset.”
“Irresponsible changes to the system may lead to the entire academic system to lose its path, and therefore cause a quick degradation of the quality of scientific research and education, a degradation that will have serious consequences for the Israeli economy."
Irani emphasized that the “main principles that have led to the success of the academic system in Israel have been its independence and its continual striving for excellence. Without academic freedom, there will cease to be an academic system that is worthy of the name. Academic freedom requires managerial freedom” she explained.
“The deposing of Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, and the establishment of a replacement who has no advanced managerial or academic background, constitute a striking blow to the autonomy of higher academic learning, and to its strength,” claimed Irani.
“We call upon you, to subsist from one sided decisions, and to engage in a continuing dialogue with the educational system for advanced learning, that will protect it and allow its contribution to Israel to continue to grow.”

Researchers Protest Bennett's Candidate for Academic Council
Group of 45 academics warn that Bennett's plan to replace vice-chair of higher education council with a less experienced candidate politicizes the position.

Yarden Skop and Or Kashti Jan 07, 2016 2:08 AM

Israeli academics protest Bennett’s ousting Higher Education Council head

A group of 45 academics sent a letter to members of the Council for Higher Education of Israel, protesting Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s candidate for vice chairwoman on the grounds that he is politicizing the position.
Bennett is pushing for Rivka Wadmany Shauman, a council member and head of planning and development at Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, to replace Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron. Bennett dismissed Messer-Yaron over a month ago, but because by law the education minister is not authorized to hire or fire the vice chairwoman, he needs the council’s approval. A secret ballot is scheduled for next week. Messer-Yaron is still technically the vice chairwoman. The appointment would be for a year, when the council completes its current term.
Wadmany Shauman is an atypical candidate because she only received her Ph.D. in 2004 and is not a full professor. Bennett told the council he chose Wadmany Shauman in order to maintain. He said  the appointment was urgent because the council is due to begin drafting its five-year plan for higher education.

In its letter, the group claimed that Bennett had dismissed Messer-Yaron without providing a good reason for doing so.  Messer-Yaron, a professor of electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University, is considered to be a professional figure who has made a significant contribution in her two years of leadership in the council.
“The proper path the education minister should have taken before deciding to dismiss Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron would have been to raise with her the arguments and considerations driving him to take such a step and to allow her — openly and with readiness to be convinced otherwise — to respond to the criticism,” the academics wrote. “That is what natural justice demands and is the most basic aspect of administrative law. This was not done.”
Prof. Peretz Lavie, the chairman of the Association of University Heads of Israel, said: “The university presidents understand the appointment is temporary. The CHE term is about to end, and then a chairman will be chosen for the next term. We are convinced the minister will listen to academia before appointing the next vice chairperson.”


Bennett's Pawns Show Contempt for Israel's Higher Education System
The ouster of the Higher Education Council head is yet another attempt to weaken the regulators, restrict their authority and subordinate them to the politicians.

Haaretz Editorial Jan 13, 2016 1:57 AM  

Following a campaign of persuasion by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a plenary session of the Council for Higher Education has legitimized the ouster of the council’s deputy head, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, a year before her term ends. Members of the council, which is supposed to be an independent, apolitical body, approved (by a vote of 12-6, with one abstention) Bennett’s nominee to replace Messer-Yaron, Dr. Rivka Wadmany Shauman, who previously headed a tiny college that merged with Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College in 2008.
Dr. Wadmany Shauman – a religious woman, just like Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, whom Bennett appointed to head the council’s planning and budgeting committee – hasn’t made much of a mark thus far in the field of higher education. Indeed, the council itself concluded that there is as yet no justification for granting her the title of professor.
Messer-Yaron, in contrast, was considered a preeminent figure in the higher education system. And over the past year she has worked to implement measures aimed at reducing the education minister’s influence over the choice of the council’s members and officials, in order to bolster the council’s independence and reduce political intervention in the higher education system.

Bennett isn’t the first education minister to get involved in filling what is considered the higher education system’s most senior position. His predecessor, Shay Piron, appointed Messer-Yaron to the job in place of Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, who was appointed by former education minister Gideon Sa’ar. But Piron made his appointment in consultation with representatives of the universities. Sa’ar’s intervention was more aggressively political – not only in the appointment process, but also in forcing the education system to turn the college in Ariel into a university, in defiance of the council’s professional opinion.
Bennett, however, has outdone both: He shelved the reform Messer-Yaron had been promoting for the past year and worked energetically to replace her.
Yet it’s not only the education minister who bears responsibility for this unsavory move. The members of the Council for Higher Education who participated in Tuesday's vote allowed him to turn them into pawns and rubber stamps in a process that demonstrated contempt for both democracy and the higher education system: The law states that the council should choose the deputy head, who serves as its de facto chairman, not merely approve the minister’s choice.

Even if Wadmany Shauman ultimately proves to be a good appointment, she’ll have great trouble acting independently, without regard for the desires of the minister to whom she owes her appointment, in light of the way Messer-Yaron’s term was cut short. Ultimately, Bennett’s move constituted yet another attempt to weaken the regulators and the professional civil servants, restrict their authority and subordinate them to the politicians.

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