Low interest in humanities leads to cutbacks at HU

Institution drops 100 courses, 80 faculty members.

Hebrew U 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Hebrew University)
Hebrew U 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Hebrew University)
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced this month it will cancel some 100 courses in its Faculty of the Humanities for the upcoming academic year, due to low student registration.
The decision will lead to the dismissal of some 80 lecturers and staff faculty members.
Following the announcement, the Non-Tenured Research and Academic Staff Union at the university petitioned the Jerusalem Labor Court to prevent the act.
In a letter written to the university president earlier this month, the union wrote that closing the courses will “severely impair students” who will have only a small number of elective courses to choose from, and also harm faculty members, assistant teachers and external teachers by violating their work agreements, which were supposed to guarantee job security and employment conditions.
Chairwoman of the union Esther Sarok said in a statement that “university president Prof. Ben-Sasson has declared war on the humanities and on junior faculty.”
“I hope that he will cancel the dismissals immediately and avoid hurting us and the students,” she added.
The dean of the Faculty of the Humanities, Prof. Reuven Amitai, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the decision to cancel courses had been on the radar for several months and that teachers have been aware of the possibility since May.
“We’re facing budgetary problems and need to deal with the overdraft situation here at the faculty,” he explained. “The other thing is that we have too many courses: it is a faculty of 190 professors, a couple of hundreds of external teachers and over 1,100 courses, which we are proud of, but we can only allow ourselves so many.”
“So with the combination of the budget issue and the large amount of courses, we have decided to reduce the amount of courses taught by external teachers, some of whom are teaching assistants,” Amitai added.
“Our understanding is that if we reduce the number of courses taught by outside teachers, the students will have less courses and the number of students will go up.”
The university issued a statement on the issue this week, saying that the institution offers “more electives in the humanities than any other academic institution in the country.”
“As part of its normal work processes, the university regularly streamlines some of its activities, including reducing where possible very poorly attended elective courses, while at the same time maintaining a high academic level,” the university wrote.
“The termination of lecturers’ employment is done according to the law and in accordance with the university’s teaching needs, and does not violate any collective labor agreements,” it added.
“In contrast to the information provided by the Non- Tenured Research and Academic Staff Union, the employment of 60 lecturers is expected to end, while another 30 lecturers had already planned to leave the university in favor of postdoctoral studies abroad or joining other academic institutions.
It is unfortunate that the union has chosen legal action over dialogue,” the statement continued.
“Several dozen will lose their jobs, and I’m very very sorry about that, but unfortunately at the end of the day we have to be fiscally responsible,” Amitai told the Post. “The union is responding as they think is right,” he added. “Instead of coming to us with a counter-proposal, they filed a court order against us, which is completely unnecessary. I am a little disappointed. I expected to see them rolling up their sleeves more and start talks.”
The union stressed the importance of “learning, teaching and research in the humanities” and expressed concern for the future of the field at the Hebrew University in particular and in the country as a whole.