Strike forces students to seek knowledge in a pub

Lecturers formally join nationwide strikes.

By BEN UCHITELLE-PIERCE, HAVIV RETTIG
April 16, 2007 22:59
3 minute read.

 
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As university students and faculty across Israel continue their strike to protest expected government reform proposals in higher education, a group of graduate students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found an alternate venue for their social theory class - a pub. As the class of eight students gathered in a dimly lit bar on Rehov Hillel, their professor, who requested together with the students not to be named, told the class that he was crossing the picket lines for one reason - to help the students continue their studies. "I am in no way here to protest anything. I am here for learning," said the professor. The pub where the meeting took place is owned and operated by a member of the class, nicknamed "Katz," who volunteered the space when the class began planning its meeting before the strike even began. "We knew that the strike would happen so we already had a plan to meet before the strike began," said one student. "Not many classes are able to do this. How many graduate students do you know who own a pub?" The student strike expanded Monday as the Senior Lecturers Organization announced that starting Tuesday it would formally join the students in shutting down Israel's public universities and colleges. A handful of private colleges, such as the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, have also been affected by the strike. Now a week old, the strike has affected an estimated 250,000 students, forcing those who wish to continue their studies to meet off campus. The striking students and lecturers are protesting reforms they believe will be instituted by the Shochat Committee established in November to examine the problems that plague Israel's higher education system. The committee has no student or lecturer representatives among its ranks. In an unusual public complaint, committee head and former finance minister Avraham Beige Shochat said on Monday that the lecturers' decision to join the strikes was "irresponsible and unjustified," noting that he had canceled the committee's deliberations over reforms the lecturers are protesting, such as instituting a differential wage scheme or permitting individual contracts for lecturers. Shochat has asked in the past that all parties involved await the committee's recommendations, expected in two months' time, before protesting against it. On Sunday, MKs came out on the side of the students, with the Knesset Education Committee declaring it would establish a special parliamentary committee to examine student tuition that would be separate from the Shochat Committee. Meanwhile, beer advertisements and posters of Jerry Garcia and Jimmy Hendrix smoking a joint hardly set the mood for higher education, but the students seem eager to participate in the class discussion about the book Sexual Politics by Kate Millett. It can be assumed that the walls of the pub have rarely witnessed a more intellectual conversation on politics and sex, considering the conversation at most pubs is usually focused on the latter. Talia, a new immigrant to Israel and a student at Hebrew University, said she knew nothing about the student strike, aside from that her classes were canceled. "I am a new immigrant so my tuition is paid by the government," she explained, so "the outcome of this strike will in no way affect me." Other members of the class are not so lucky. Katz, the owner of the pub, works at night serving drinks and at another job during the day in addition to attending classes. Katz said the government needed to offer more options for students to be able to afford their tuition. "I think that if the government does not lower tuition, they need to offer more job opportunities and more scholarships for students so that they can afford to learn," he said. Katz also expressed concern over the motivation of the Israeli student body to strike. "I think that the acts of the student body in Israel are often motivated by the desire of the student body leaders to make a name for themselves in politics. Although," he admitted, "it is hard for me to be in favor of a strike that I am currently violating." The class ended without any plans made to meet in the future, but the students seemed eager to return to the pub.

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