Student anger bubbles over as hopes for saving semester fade

Thursday night talks again fail to resolve senior lecturers strike.

student demo jlem 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
student demo jlem 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With two-thirds of the university semester lost and rumors abounding of its imminent cancellation, students across the country are becoming increasingly frustrated. National Union of Israeli Students head Itay Shonshine told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that he was spearheading efforts on two fronts to end the lecturers strike. "We sent a letter out today to all professional and industrial unions urging them to get involved and to call on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to take part in the negotiations," he said. Shonshine said he would also turn to the courts. The National Union of Israeli Students is preparing to go to court to demand a tuition refund for this semester, which has already seen 10 of its 13 weeks lost, he said. "Irreparable damage has already been done, and it is just going to get worse. There are many who won't be able to take up positions with firms if they cannot graduate - lawyers, architects, doctors, and engineers," he said. Shonshine said he knew of students who were so exasperated that they were going to study abroad instead. A frustrated student from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the Post Thursday that she had decided to withdraw from her program and try again next year. "Anyway, I'm not learning, so why should I stay?" Miri Capiluto, who was supposed to start a masters in Cultural Studies this semester, said. "I'll withdraw now and start over next year in a more orderly fashion." A third year physics student at the Hebrew University who was supposed to graduate this coming July told the Post that because of the strike, she wouldn't be able to work over the summer. That's money, she said, that she needs to pay her living expenses. "I spent two months now sitting around, because I didn't know the strike would go on that long, and when they extend the year into the summer, I won't be able to make the money I need," she said. She said she was hoping to start her master's next year, and so the summer job was crucial to enable her to continue studying. She was not the only one she knew of in that situation, she said. "Today I ran into a guy from Computer Science who was in the exact same situation," she said. Shonshine blamed the government and Education Minister Yuli Tamir for doing too little. "No one is rushing to solve the problem," he said. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On invited Committee of University Presidents head Prof. Moshe Kaveh to a meeting Thursday evening to discuss ways of ending the strike. After the meeting, Kaveh said Bar-On had rejected the committee's proposal, which Kaveh believed could have ended the strike. Kaveh said in a statement that the Treasury had offered a counterproposal that he rejected after consulting with the other university presidents. Kaveh expressed deep disappointment that the Finance Ministry had rejected the proposal and said that the prime minister was the only one who could move the negotiations out of the current stalemate. The Senior Lecturers Union also met Thursday evening, to discuss how to respond to the expected cancellation of the semester. SLU head Prof. Zvi Hacohen blasted the Finance Ministry for interfering more than it assisted in the negotiations. Earlier this week, Kaveh passed along the Treasury's suggestions. "The Treasury's proposal is completely unacceptable. Every time understandings are reached between the CUP [Committee of University Presidents] and the SLU, the Treasury gets involved and wrecks the progress. The Treasury portrays itself as the protector of the public coffer but completely ignores the expected loss of billions of shekels to industry from the cancellation of the academic year," Kaveh said in a statement. Hacohen also said the Finance Ministry's failure to meet with the senior lecturers to resolve the strike was disgraceful and that it was up to Olmert to step in and correct the situation.