Striking lecturers shut down IDF courses

With less than third of semester left, academic year may be lost; Bar-On to meet university presidents.

University 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
University 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The partial strike of the country's public universities began its 52nd day Monday by expanding to include academic-level courses in the IDF. A Senior Lecturers Union representative told The Jerusalem Post that the military's most prestigious courses, including the yearlong courses for IAF pilots, certain intelligence units and naval ship commanders - some of which confer academic degrees - will be impaired as the country's senior professors increase the pressure on the Finance Ministry. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On is set to meet with the university presidents on Monday in a further attempt to resolve the higher education crisis. The SLU and the Committee of University Presidents claim the Finance Ministry is refusing to negotiate a wage hike to restore the erosion of lecturers' wages over the past decade, which lecturers say is some 32%. The SLU calculates the erosion according to the rise in salaries in the various government sectors during this period, while the Finance Ministry insists the erosion must be calculated in comparison to the Consumer Price Index, which would add just 3% to the lecturers' salaries. With nine weeks of a 13-week semester now lost, the higher education system may lose not only a semester, but the academic year, both SLU head Prof. Zvi Hacohen and a representative of Committee of University Presidents (CUP) chairman Prof. Moshe Kaveh said Sunday. "If the year is canceled, we lose an entire class of engineers, lawyers, etc," said a CUP spokesperson. "You can't register an entire class of new students. We're talking about something staggering. Delaying an entire class of engineers will cost the economy billions. It's better to give the lecturers their most ridiculous demands than to lose the calendar." If the lost time can't be made up at the expense of holiday vacations and by extending the semester, the academic semester's cancellation could strand some 30,000 soldiers and high-schoolers looking to start their studies next year, since public universities have student bodies limited in size by per-student government subsidies. Hundreds of law students may not be able to start their mandatory internships, while students of accounting, medicine and other disciplines may need to have professional exams delayed. Similarly to the CUP, the lecturers union has estimated a NIS 2 billion loss to the economy in the event of such a cancellation. "Since the early 1990s, only one country on the planet has lost the entire academic year. It was Ghana in wartime. Before that, it was the Ivory Coast and Liberia - exactly the sorts of places we'd like to emulate," an SLU spokesperson noted sarcastically on Sunday. Hacohen estimates that the higher education system has "a few days" left before that occurs. "If this strike doesn't end this week, before Sunday, it will mean misery for the country," the CUP representative said. Yet no meetings have taken place between the lecturers and the Finance Ministry since the ministry retracted its reported tentative agreement to a new wage scale early last week. As it was, that scheme, proposed by Kaveh, would have resolved the issue of wage erosion in the future, but did not deal with the lecturers' demands for compensation for past erosion. "If we have an agreement according to which lecturers deserve future increases of X money, isn't it reasonable to say that they deserved that rate of increase in past years?" asked Hacohen. "The question now is whether the Treasury will return to its position from last Sunday, a suggestion that was acceptable both to us and to them." Bar-On requested Monday's meeting with the university presidents following a letter from Kaveh to the Prime Minister's Office last week. "We hope the Treasury will bring a reasonable suggestion and the lecturers will come down off their high horse, and then we can find a middle ground," said the CUP representative. "With a little goodwill from both sides, we can end this in one day."