No universal policy for universities

Student union disappointed with decision on post-war leniencies.

Each Israeli university would determine its own policy on leniency toward students who were caught up in the Lebanon fighting, according to a decision made Tuesday in a meeting between the Committee of University Presidents, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and National Student Union Chairman Itai Shonshine. The decision came as a disappointment for the student union, which sought a unified policy for easing the burden of students who were forced to flee their homes or were drafted into the IDF during the monthlong war in the North. "The different policies are causing resentment among the different campuses," said Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the Oranim College Student Union. He warned that the decision, along with the benefits granted on Monday by the Technion to its students, were "going to cause a new wave of protest." Technion administrators on Monday agreed to lower the bar for a passing score in up to two courses for students living near the northern border, and granted students a third exam date (mo'ed gimel) in all courses. The decision ended a series of student protests demanding leniency for those who were affected by the war. But the Technion's concession had no effect on students attending other colleges throughout the North or those affected by the war who were studying in colleges and universities elsewhere in the country. "I will demand [at the meeting] that the decisions of the Technion regarding its northern students will be implemented at the University of Haifa, and that the [academic] aid given to reservists will be given in all campuses in the country," said Shonshine ahead of the Tuesday meeting, articulating in his second demand the central point of contention for student leaders throughout the country. "There is no doubt the universities and colleges have to help the students," an Education Ministry representative said in response to the student unions' complaints. "We've gotten every college and university to sign the Student Convention, which gives them some benefits," such as free courses to make up for lost classes. However, the representative added, "some academic issues can't be forced on an institution. While Tamir wrote a letter to the colleges and universities calling on them to be considerate in grading students affected by the war, the government can't force a grading policy on an academic institution." Safed College Student Union Chairman Reuven Trabelsi said he believes the main issue is equality. "It isn't right that two students who went off to Lebanon to sit in an ambush got wounded from the same mortar and came home with the same wounds, but that one will have more leniency on his exams because he goes to one university, while the other in some other school can't get that benefit," said Trabelsi. The union leaders were demanding that the Ministry of Education create a unified list of benefits for students throughout the country in order to assuage the sense of inequality that has become particularly acute in the smaller colleges. Though there is no uniformity in policy, northern colleges and universities offer a smattering of benefits to students affected by the war. These often include a third exam date and the right to select the highest of the three scores as the final grade, free courses in various subjects, allowing students to take open-book exams and a two-month delay in the due date for academic papers. For many student groups, however, the fight is about changing the grading curve. The striking students at the Technion won a concession from the institution's administration lowering the passing grade to 55 percent. University of Haifa students lost their battle to get a non-numerical "passing" score that would not be incorporated into the students' averages. The discrepancy in grade concessions has troubled students most. "Ten years ago, after the professors' strike, students got passing grades automatically," complained Trabelsi. "Now, in a much more serious situation, this is a problem?"