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