Doctor who?

The Council for Higher Education slapped Bar Ilan’s wrist when it nixed its doctorates-for-VIPs fast-track.

Psychology building in Bar-Ilan University 390 (photo credit: Avishai Teicher via the PikiWiki - Israel free ima)
Psychology building in Bar-Ilan University 390
(photo credit: Avishai Teicher via the PikiWiki - Israel free ima)
The Council for Higher Education on Tuesday slapped Bar Ilan University’s wrist when it nixed its doctorates-for-VIPs fast-track. Concurrently, the state comptroller is ferreting into many other alleged infringements at this institution, including inordinate salaries and perks.
The latest kerfuffle connected with Bar Ilan was caused by revelations that political aspirant and TV celebrity Yair Lapid was accepted for a PhD program at the university without ever attaining so much as a bachelor’s degree.
It is one thing for an academic institution to hand out honorary titles but it’s quite another to enable the rich and/or famous to flaunt false intellectual trophies and glory in the highest academic degrees when they are anything but scholars.
If our society indeed places great weight on academic degrees, then these must be duly merited and not secured overnight by an apparent sleight of hand. The very thought that a highly regarded university should become an accomplice to such machinations is dispiriting.
Bar Ilan, the CHL found, was the only university to offer these curious catapults to academic prominence.
With its shenanigans, Bar Ilan is only damaging itself. Why this happens is a question which should foremost exceedingly trouble that university’s higher echelons, as well as its students and alumni. All will eventually suffer from the depreciation in the perceived reputation of their achievements and degrees.
Bar Ilan’s effrontery here primarily devalues the degrees which genuine students earned by much perspiration, sacrifice and many years of steadfast commitment. Bar Ilan’s apparent eagerness to pander to the egos of illustrious movers and shakers – even if they patently do not deserve its boost – is principally unfair to those who did honest hard work to win their academic status.
Moreover, it is unfair to those who failed to qualify for studies there. It isn’t easy to cross the threshold into any of our mainstream universities. Secondary school and matriculation-exam grades must be high, and then come the psychometric tests, replete with brain teasers and trick questions that often have little to do with true aptitude and talent.
But while ordinary applicants need to jump high hurdles, well-connected sorts like Lapid get to skip all thorny requirements, parachute to the top of the hierarchy and then impress the electorate with an instant doctorate.
There’s also the issue of what kind of a background we expect our prospective leaders to possess. We aren’t saying that all must be professorial. Ivory tower mind-sets don’t automatically prognosticate a necessarily superior capacity to cope with practical predicaments.
Academic accomplishments clearly meant less in the state’s earliest days, when founding fathers like David Ben-Gurion were autodidacts. But times are changing.
Minimum prerequisites aren’t what they were and now BAs are demanded even for some retail positions. Perhaps minimal education wouldn’t go amiss for our politicos, but theirs must not be counterfeit accomplishments or fictional personal histories.
Back in 2007, the entire county rocked with revulsion when it emerged that Israel Beiteinu’s rising star Esterina Tartman claimed to have a master’s degree while she was only in the midst of her graduate studies –in another special Bar Ilan program.
The repercussions were so harsh that Tartman’s appointment as tourism minister was withdrawn. She lost her position as faction chairwoman and was censured by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee. Her political career was aborted and she disappeared into oblivion.
Lapid’s lapse is of no lesser severity. In some ways it’s worse.
We expect our potential leaders to exhibit a modicum of integrity and scruples. It cannot be that one who seeks to legislate for us and direct our affairs would countenance different standards for himself than for others. That is as unconscionable as cheating on exams.
Lapid’s background as TV idol and columnist does not – and should not – confer upon him the right to enjoy exceptional consideration and a different starting point than accorded to “commoners.”
The fact that Bar Ilan deemed that singular criteria apply to some (not all) journalists and to some (not all) authors is offensive.
We congratulate the CHL for ordering Bar Ilan’s “special PhD track” to be discontinued.