High Court permits Ariel to remain a university

Court rejects petition by group of university presidents to end Ariel University Center’s new status.

Ariel University in Samaria 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Ariel University)
Ariel University in Samaria 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Ariel University)
Ariel University’s accreditation as a full fledged institution of higher learning is legal ruled the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, as it rejected a petition by Israel’s Council for Higher Education against the move.
“We’re not surprised because there was no basis to the petition,” Ariel University said in response to the court’s ruling.
The academic institution, the only one of its kind in Judea and Samaria, was founded in 1982 as a branch of Bar-Ilan University, but became an independent college in 2004, when it sought university status.
Its location in the West Bank, an area of the country under IDF military and civilian rule, meant that it fell outside the auspices of the CHE , which is the only organization authorized to bestow university accreditation on an academic institution.
Ariel University was accredited instead, in July 2012, by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. The government approved the upgrade in December 2012.
The international community, the Palestinians and leftwing organizations criticized the move as a political ploy to further solidify Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
Separately, the CHE also opposed the move saying it said had no academic basis, since the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria did not have the authority to accredit an institution, and that Israel didn’t need an eighth university.
The CHE has last accredited a university in 1974.
In 2012 CHE turned to the High Court, along with many university presidents, which represented their last option to block the accreditation.
Peace Now separately signed onto the petition.
The court on Tuesday said that the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria was empowered to accredit Ariel University, even though it noted that the complex reality that necessitated the presence of two similar groups, both empowered with accreditation, did present complications.
Politicians who were involved in the accreditation lauded the High Court’s decision in favor of Ariel University.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz helped secure funding for the university as the former finance minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s second government.
Steinitz said he felt the court laid to rest all criticism of the accreditation.
“I’m certain that Ariel University will contribute to higher education in Israel and to the settlement enterprise in Samaria and in the city of Ariel,” said Steinitz.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, formerly the education minister, said it was unfortunate that the CHE and many university presidents needed a court judgment to accept what was a just and worthy process.
The High Court, in its ruling, did not accept the CHE ’s request to debate its central contention that the criteria used for accreditation was insufficient.
More specifically it rejected the presidents’ wishes to debate whether comparing Ariel University only to the goals it set for itself and not to other universities in Israel or internationally (as the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria did) was less appropriate than wresting with the question of whether Ariel University merits being a full-fledged university.
The court also rejected arguments, thrown into the mix after the controversy erupted, that a new university would endanger funding for the whole university system and noted Ariel University’s commitment to keep costs down in the upcoming years.
The court likewise rejected the claims that the Altshuler Committee, which advised on the issue, had a conflict of interest and claims that OC Central Command Maj.-Gen.
Nitzan Alon had abandoned his independent judgment in approving Ariel University’s change of status.
Next, the court said that the Finance Ministry had done nothing wrong by separating Ariel University’s new funding from the regular university budget process, an action it said it took to avoid delays, as such separation occurs not infrequently in the budgetary process.
Responding to the complaint that the whole process had bulldozed over the council’s advisory role, the court said the Council of Higher Education had, to some extent, reduced its advisory role on the issue by delaying its recommendation against Ariel University for too long.
In earlier proceedings, the state said that the 1981 law governing the issue clearly empowered the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria – which announced the upgrade in September – to, with the military commander’s approval, recognize institutions as universities, regardless of opposition by other parties.
The state also argued that the presidents offered no evidence that allowing the decision to go through before they could file another petition would create an “irreversible” situation and would cause confusion on issues of coordination and authority in higher education. The state said that no part of the process had been done in an underhanded or secretive fashion, as the university presidents alleged.