Making Ariel University a reality
Like the draining of the malarial swamps of yore, Ariel University Center represents the triumph of the Zionist dream.
Aerial view of Ariel settlement in West Bank Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
‘There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university, a place where
those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may
strive to make others see.”
The words penned by the late English poet
laureate, John Masefield, give expression to the best of what has come to be
known as the modern university. One would think, therefore, that last week’s
near-unanimous decision by the Council of Higher Education-Judea and Samaria to
grant accreditation to the Ariel University Center of Samaria as Israel’s eighth
university would have been welcomed with open arms by the academic community and
public alike. Such, however, is not the case.
AUC’s recognition as a
university was and is being vigorously opposed by the Presidents’ Committee
representing the country’s seven other universities. To add insult to injury,
the head of the allpowerful Budget Allocation Committee of the Israel Council of
Higher Education, Dr. Emmanuel Trajtenberg, a leading figure in framing the
government’s response to last year’s social justice protests, not only lobbied
strenuously to thwart AUC’s accreditation, but attempted to “persuade” the AUC
administration to forgo formal university status by offering a so-called
compromise whereby AUC would retain its temporary university center status (as
yet undefined in law) in exchange for generous financial allocations and other
privileges heretofore accorded to institutions of higher learning having
university status in Israel. He is still urging the powers that be to delay or
deny accreditation on non-academic grounds.
Fortunately, the AUC
Executive Committee rejected any such compromise on the grounds that the Council
of Higher Education-Judea and Samaria) had laid down clear and unequivocal
academic criteria in 2007 for AUC’s accreditation after a five-year period
ending in July 2012.
As part of the accreditation process, in February
2012 a blueribbon panel composed of leading academicians from Israeli’s leading
universities, including Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Robert Aumann of the Hebrew
University, recommended unanimously that AUC be given full and permanent
university status, lavishing praise upon the institution not only for having met
the council’s stringent criteria, but surpassing them in most every
LIKE THE greening of the Negev, the draining of the malarial
swamps of yore, the absorption of millions of immigrants and the creation of the
Start-Up Nation, AUC represents the triumph of the Zionist dream. Founded in a
basement in the village of Kedumim in 1982 with a handful of students, AUC (then
known as the College of Judea and Samaria) had a student body of only 500 in its
bar mitzva year in 1995.
It was then that Prof. Dan Meyerstein, a
world-renowned chemist, and a senior faculty member at Ben-Gurion University,
accepted the presidency of the fledgling institution. In the 17 years he has
served as president, together with AUC’s founder and visionary, former finance
minister Yigal Cohen- Orgad, and former foreign minister Moshe Arens, AUC has
grown into a formidable academic research institution with a student body
numbering some 13,000, 85 percent of whom hail from pre-1967 Israel, including
some 500 Arab Israeli students.
AUC has a faculty of nearly 300,
instructing in 24 faculty departments spanning a wide range of disciplines from
natural science, applied science, bio-medical science, engineering, business,
management and education to the humanities. It has set a national record for
absorbing new-immigrant academics from the former Soviet Union. It has the
highest number of students of Ethiopian origin, more than any of Israel’s other
This year alone, in anticipation of its new university
status, AUC is about to welcome 30 young PhDs, 20 of whom are Israelis and Jews
coming from leading universities in the United States and Western Europe,
thereby helping to reverse the brain-drain phenomenon. In its relatively short
existence, AUC has achieved recognition as one of Israel’s leading higher
education institutions in a number of fields including physical therapy,
robotics and materials science, and boasts highly acclaimed schools in
architecture and communications.
IT WAS no wonder then that both the
blue-ribbon accreditation team and the Council of Higher Education-Judea and
Samaria) disregarded the skeptics and the naysayers and approved AUC’s
All would be well, except that, incredibly, the
process is not yet over. Because AUC is located over the Green Line, it is
subject to a sui generis legal regime. AUC’s new status must be approved
formally by the commander of the IDF Central Command, who serves as military
governor of Judea and Samaria. As an army officer, the commander is subject to
the jurisdiction of the defense minister, Ehud Barak.
As strange as it
may seem, the military governor acting at the behest of the defense minister
could delay or even veto the decision of the Council of Higher Education, the
blue-ribbon panel, and the enthusiastic recommendations of Education Minister
Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. In the volatile political
climate created by the withdrawal of the Kadima Party from the coalition
government and the looming prospect of general elections, the ultimate fate of
AUC’s accreditation cannot be taken for granted.
While it is said that
nothing happens in Israel that is not affected in some way by politics, it is to
be hoped that Minister Barak and the military governor, together with Prime
Minister Netanyahu, will endorse the decision of the Council of Higher
Education, their fellow ministers and the blue-ribbon panel, and not allow AUC
to become a pawn in the political maneuverings that inevitably precede
First, Minister Barak should respect the wishes of AUC’s
13,000 students and faculty, as well as the Israeli national student
organization and dozens of faculty from Israel’s other universities who warmly
welcome AUC’s ascension to university status.
Second, Minister Barak
should respect the rule of law, laid down in the 2005 government decision to
approve AUC’s university status upon fulfillment of the council’s academic
criteria and the more than satisfactory completion of the accreditation process
as prescribed by the only body with legal authority to promulgate
Third, Minister Barak should remember that adding another qualified
academic research institution to the community of Israeli universities increases
competition and promotes academic freedom.
Why should the excess
concentration of power be disclaimed in the economic arena only to be preserved
anachronistically in the academic realm? Competition is healthy. It creates
opportunities and fosters creativity. It creates jobs and spurs ossifying
institutions to improve their research and pedagogical offerings, not to mention
to streamline their management and administration.
Finally, and no less
importantly, it is a vote for Zionism. AUC was founded on the premise that it
was possible to create a modern university in Israel in which both the faculty
and the students proudly embrace the Zionist dream, symbolized by the rule that
every classroom at AUC must display the flag of Israel. While academic freedom
is cherished at AUC, AUC has little tolerance for the kind of anti-Zionist dogma
that has spread cancerously in many other university faculties in
That AUC is today a thriving institution of higher learning with
an international reputation for research and excellence is nothing short of
miraculous. Its accreditation as a full-fledged university would be a crowning
recognition of the courage and foresight of its founders, faculty and
There could be no more potent rejoinder to those here and
abroad who seek daily to delegitimize the Zionist enterprise and to weaken the
magnificent human experiment called the State of Israel. It is time for this
dream to become reality.
The writer is a practicing international
attorney with offices in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Washington, New York and Toronto.
He is a member of the AUC Executive Committee.