First established three decades ago as an extension of Bar-Ilan University, Ariel University Center – more than a college, not quite a university – has reached the requisite level of “academic critical mass” that justifies full-fledged university status.

Ariel’s campus is graced with the presence of over 13,000 students – 9,000 of whom are pursuing an academic degree – hailing from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. There are Jews, Muslims and Christians. There are members of the faculty who identity with a wide range of political opinions. And though the university center is located in Samaria, it’s safe to say that none of Ariel’s social science or humanities departments are any more politically slanted to the Right than parallel departments in one of our seven institutions with full university status is slanted to the Left.

Indeed, in December 2011, the Ariel University Center hosted a conference by the Free Muslims Coalition which presented alternatives to the two-state solution, including solutions that called for the dismantling of Israel as an exclusively Zionist state.

The center has nearly 30 departments for BA, MA, BSc and B. Arch studies, in three faculties and three schools. It has doubled the number of peer-reviewed publications, has established cooperative efforts with 44 universities and research institutions, and has hosted numerous international academic conferences.

As a result, a committee at the Council of Higher Education concluded that the center has met all of the academic criteria required to justify an upgrade to university status.

However, a number of influential figures in the academic world have joined forces to prevent the center from being upgraded to university status. Yet, not one of the arguments leveled against Ariel University Center holds water.

For instance, the heads of our full-fledged universities – including Moshe Kaveh of the Religious Zionist Bar-Ilan University – signed a letter opposing the move. These heads claim that the already cashstrapped universities, which are suffering a brain drain because they cannot compete with university salaries offered abroad, will be financially hurt if Ariel is granted university status. The inadequate budget will be spread even thinner.

But Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz sent a letter Sunday to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar in which he said that if Ariel University Center is recognized as a university, he will transfer a grant of NIS 50 million to the institution over a two-year period.

Steinitz’s announcement makes it more difficult for the other universities to oppose upgrading Ariel’s status because it means that most of its budget will not come at their expense.

Heads of the universities also claim that there is no need for another university in Israel.

But as Ariel Chancellor Yigal Cohen-Orgad has pointed out, Israel has grown by 230 percent since the last time a university was established 40 years ago.

Some cowardly Israeli academics oppose the idea of forming an Israeli university beyond the Green Line because doing so might increase calls from international academia to boycott other existing and proven Israeli institutions. Apparently, they believe that if they kowtow to bigotry by distancing themselves from Ariel they can somehow avoid a boycott from universities in Spain, Britain and elsewhere.

In January of last year, some members of the Israeli academic community went one step further. Hundreds of professors declared an academic boycott against Ariel because it is located beyond the Green Line.

Instead of trying to appease Israel bashers or join their ranks, our academics should be protecting academic freedom. Why should a researcher be punished simply because he or she works at a university which happens to be in Samaria? On Tuesday, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is expected to meet to discuss upgrading Ariel’s status. We hope they make the right decision.

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