Professor defends BGU against bias allegation

Petition circulates asking to cancel decision barring students from registering for university's politics program.

Ben Gurion UNiversity 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ben Gurion UNiversity 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A petition has been circulating asking to cancel a Council of Higher Education sub-committe’s decision not to allow students to register in Ben-Gurion University’s politics and government program starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.
The council’s decision is pending approval by its plenum. Students enrolled for the academic year about to begin will continue their studies as planned.
“Israeli academic freedom is under severe attack,” the petition, signed by faculty from universities and colleges around the country, states.
Prof. David Newman, dean of the Faculty for Human and Social Sciences at BGU in Beersheba, said on Sunday, “As a person who spends half his time involved in combatting boycotts in Europe, I can tell you that from responses we are receiving from friendly academics throughout the world, the Council of Higher Education is doing more damage and harm to name of Israel’s universities than all of our enemies put together.”
Claims that the politics and government program was left-wing oriented were “just not based on reality,” Newman, a Jerusalem Post columnist, said.
The program was very popular and was now accepting only one out of four applicants for a class of 150 students, he added.
Newman also said the faculty at the department was of varied personal political positions. He himself is an advocate of Israel in the battle against European boycott of the country. “This is clearly a question of political interference in academic freedom,” he said.
Although he was not involved with the petition initiative, Newman said that to his knowledge students felt they were receiving a balanced education.
The Im Tirtzu – Rebuilding a Zionist Society NGO has been involved with the issue for a few years and has continued to push for a change within the politics and government program. The NGO has been very critical of its faculty’s teaching methods, describing them as “unbalanced” and “very disturbing.”
Im Tirtzu said that in researching the matter, it found that two years ago, nine out of 11 professors in the department had signed radical left-wing petitions.
“David Ben-Gurion is turning in his grave,” Ronen Shoval, chairman and founder of Im Tirtzu, said in an explanatory video.
He added: “It’s okay to teach the view that Zionism is a form of racism. Even though I don’t agree with it, it’s all right to teach that. What is not okay is to teach only that view. There needs to be balance and pluralism.”
There should be political science studies at Ben-Gurion, but “changes have to be made,” Shoval said. In his opinion, students are not being exposed to varied enough points of view on the subject of Zionism.
MALAG, the Council for Higher Education, released a statement on Sunday saying: “The university should be correcting the deficiencies which have been pointed out by our international committee and insuring that the department’s work will be based solely on academic criteria rather than on running a campaign.”