(photo credit: Ehud Zion Waldoks)
Education Minister Yuli Tamir received a rare round of compliments on Monday from all those involved in trying to resolve the demands of junior faculty at the public universities.
MKs, representatives of the junior faculty and professors all concurred during a Knesset Education Committee meeting that Tamir had tackled a decade-old problem head on and was making more progress in resolving it than anyone had done in the past.
The junior faculty are demanding improved job security and pensions and social benefits. They are also championing the rights of "external lecturers," who are fired and rehired every year and who also do not receive social benefits or pensions.
During the committee meeting, it became clear that the problem of external lecturers was compounded by the lack of hard facts about their situation, or even their numbers. The junior faculty said external lecturers made up 40 percent of university staff and 80% of college faculty.
Tamir said she had asked the Finance Ministry to look into it and provide detailed numbers.
Prof. Menachem Megidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the new head of the Committee of University Presidents, also promised to provide specific numbers.
However, there was disagreement over how to define who was an external lecturer and on who should be given better working conditions. Megidor said that at least at the Hebrew University the problem was not that acute.
"There are 595 external lecturers at the university. Most of them teach one, maybe two courses and are also judges, accountants, visiting faculty from other universities - in short, people with other professions. These people should not be included as permanent faculty at the university. If [former Supreme Court president] Aharon Barak teaches a course or two, he should not be made permanent faculty.
"Moreover," Megidor continued, "the tenure track must remain competitive. Not everyone who gets a PhD will get tenure."
Representatives of the junior faculty said the colleges and universities had long used the status of external lecturer to keep many highly qualified teachers employed but without the benefits they would accrue if they were senior faculty. They said that at the University of Haifa, there were 1,000 external lecturers and 550 senior faculty, and at Tel Aviv University, 400 senior faculty left last year and 250 external lecturers were hired.
The junior faculty said many external lecturers were rehired every year and in essence were part of the regular teaching staff but had employment conditions "comparable to the cleaning staff at the universities."
"We want the work conditions of PhD students for those with their doctorates," a junior faculty representative told the Knesset committee.
Prof. Yakir Shoshani, representing the external lecturers at the academic colleges, said the problem was much worse in the colleges than in the universities.
"There's no clear picture of the external lecturers' situation," he said.
He also noted that they were in the process of pursuing a collective wage agreement.
"We met with Tamir and she was very warm and welcoming. We've submitted a collective agreement proposal to the Finance Ministry that addresses working conditions for senior and junior faculty and external lecturers all at the same time. I think it's the first time such an agreement has been proposed in the history of the State of Israel," Shoshani said.
"We hope that Education Minister Tamir will reach a good agreement to straighten out their dismal conditions. If more money needs to be budgeted to do it, then we'll find more money. We can't let this reach a crisis point. I would prefer to solve this without resorting to legislation, but that option exists," committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) said.
Junior faculty representatives said that it would cost 10% of what the senior lecturers recently negotiated for themselves to solve the problem.
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