graduation students school university 311.
(photo credit: thinkstock)
In light of the recent controversy surrounding Yair Lapid’s pursuit of an M.A,
the Supervisory Committee of the Council for Higher Education has revoked
Bar-Ilan University’s authority to accept applications for advanced degrees from
applicants who do not have a BA. The rationale for this decision is to protect
the primary interest of academia – the imparting of knowledge.
dilemma revolves around the definition of the BA degree: is it a means or an
end? If the latter, there is no circumventing it.
However, a BA degree is
only a formal recognition of the fact, or rather a way of ensuring in some
measure, that the recipient has indeed acquired the basics of a given field of
One can’t ignore the fact that many students in non-academic
institutions and programs, and even self-taught scholars, arrive at impressive
achievements, equal to, or even greater than, those of formal degree holders.
This well-acknowledged conundrum is gaining more exposure now that information on
all levels is readily available to the general public: books, professional
publications and databases are accessible to anyone who wishes to expand his
knowledge and acquire a more comprehensive understanding of any academic
discipline. Universities are still the academic path chosen by most, but there
is always the option of choosing other paths to acquire knowledge and
During the Middle Ages, the common belief was that there were
“gods of knowledge,” who kept the knowledge hidden and conveyed it only to
members of the “order of the sages.” According to this view, which has recently
regained some popularity, universities are a sort of modern- day guild, vested
with sole authority to decide who can be a student and who can’t. But
universities are not guilds, and their faculty members are not gods of
The print revolution created a bitter debate: the opponents of
print claimed it took away the control and supervision of knowledge from the
“sages.” The supporters kept using the slogan: “written knowledge over spoken
knowledge.” The Israel Council for Higher Education’s recent decision aligns
with the opponents.
This is not to say that proper academic education is
by any means redundant, only that there are other options; non-institutionalized
or informal education channels which must be accessible to all. That way,
practical as well as academic values are endorsed, by the recognition that
academia is not the sole owner of knowledge, but only its agent. Indeed, many of
humanity’s most impressive accomplishments in terms of education and knowledge
were achieved outside the framework of academia.
Much like any other
institution, academia leans toward the conservative. Alongside the ever
necessary skepticism and scrutiny, however, it should also be open to new and
original thought, which will most probably come from outside
Those who wish to attain advanced degrees and become
researchers within the framework of academia must undergo scrupulous tests and
pass various exams, confirming their skills and capabilities. Nevertheless,
success in these exams does not depend on previous degrees or previous places of
The world’s leading universities offer exceptions for certain
Senior academicians, those whom the Council for Higher
Education (and society) trust to provide knowledge and train young scientists,
can keep guard in this matter, and only the deserving few will be accepted under
such exceptions. Bar-Ilan University’s meticulous book of rules and regulations
strictly prevents favoritism and partiality.So why close the gates and
adhere to the strictest letter of the law when what is needed is exactly the
opposite? Aside from exerting authority and power, what good can come of that?
The writer is the head of the Program for Hermeneutics and Cultural Studies at
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