New 'university' status for Ariel college angers Tamir
Tamir says the announcement misleads the public and is completely opposed to the decisions of the Council for Higher Education.
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
The College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel has received temporary university status, upgrading its status from that of a college, the institution announced on Wednesday. The announcement immediately drew an outcry from Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who questioned the legality of the change.
The 7,600-strong college said that it received approval to begin an expansion meant to turn it into Israel's sixth university and - together with the Weizmann Institute and the Technion - the country's eighth academic research institution.
Its new name - the Ariel University Center in Samaria - is the result of formal proceedings in the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS) and approval of the Non-Profit Registrar at the Justice Ministry, according to the institution's executive committee chairman Yigal Cohen-Orgad.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quickly welcomed the announcement, a Prime Minister's Office spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post, adding that Olmert "was happy about the government decision [in 2005 to expand the college], and thinks the strengthening of the Ariel college strengthens both the settlement blocs and higher education in Israel."
Tamir, however, called the announcement "misleading" and said the prime minister had been misinformed.
"The announcement misleads the public and is completely opposed to the decisions of the Council for Higher Education and its Planning and Budgeting Committee," read a statement from Tamir. "It is also in opposition to the opinion of the IDF commander in Judea and Samaria, and to that of Justice Ministry officials dealing with the issue."
Approval did not come from the Council for Higher Education, but from the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, over which Tamir has no jurisdiction. Since Israel never legally annexed the West Bank, the state's statutory bodies - of which the CHE is one - have no jurisdiction there. For this reason, the CHE-JS was created in 1992, and operates under the authority of the IDF's Central Command.
"The education minister is mistaken," a representative of the college told the Post. "The authority given by the Higher Education Law over an academic institution in Ariel belongs to the CHE-JS. Therefore, it's exceedingly strange that the minister should speak this way, and probably comes out of her poor knowledge of the law."
The approval of the CHE-JS followed the recommendation of the six-member Altshuler Committee headed by CHE-JS chairman and Ben-Gurion University Prof. Amos Altshuler.
Other sources close to the college told the Post that Tamir was "obviously politicizing" a purely academic issue. A college legal adviser added that in any case Tamir had no authority to stop the expansion - not now nor at any time in the future.
Even so, a representative for Tamir said: "The move has to be coordinated with the [CHE's] Planning and Budgeting Committee, and the High Court of Justice has already ruled [in February 2007] that OC Central Command must approve the change. Neither of these have happened."
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh has reportedly ordered an inquiry into the legality of the move.
The change approved by the Altshuler Committee is not a permanent one, but a temporary university status that will be sustained for three to five years, during which it will be recognized as a university and could develop its academic programs to the level of a university. At the end of that trial period, college administrators hope, the institution will be granted the status - and funding - of a full public university.
The law, through the CHE and the CHE-JS, limits the activities of academic institutions, giving licenses to use the word "university" or "college" only after certain criteria are met, including the variety of fields taught and the scope of research conducted at the institution in question, the granting of graduate degrees - which must be separately approved in their own right - the presence of appropriate laboratories and libraries, cooperation with foreign academic institutions and proper administrative organs.
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