As some of you know, the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University is home to some of Israel’s most progressive scholars, including two political geographers. These scholars regularly expose and condemn unjust policies and practices within Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This department is now in danger of being shut down. Israel’s Council of Higher Education has proposed this, citing the department’s failure to comply with the recommendations of an evaluation committee (to grow mainstream and positivist scholarship and teaching). In fact, the department has already taken substantial steps to comply with the committee’s recommendations despite the inaccuracy of many aspects of its report.
As a Haaretz editorial recently put it, “The closure of BGU's Department of Politics and Government, without allowing more time to fix any remaining deficiencies, gives one the impression that the decision was based not on issues of academic quality but on political considerations.” <http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/politics-in-academia-1.464374>
Details of the case can be found in this Haaretz editorial, as well as in the text pasted below.
At the end of this email is a list of names and email addresses of some of the people involved in this issue (Council and committee members), as well as others who might be compelled to speak out against the Council’s decision (administrators of Israeli universities). Consider emailing them and letting them know what you think about this transgression against academic freedom.
Reecia Orzeck, Ph.D.
Department of Geography-Geology
Illinois State University
The department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is currently under threat of being shut down.
This saga began when the Council of Higher Education established an international evaluation committee to scrutinize political science departments in Israel.
From the very beginning, the process was mired by irregularities. First, Prof. Ian Lustick, a prominent American political scientist from U of Penn and an internationally recognized expert on Israeli society and politics, was removed from the evaluation committee for unknown reasons. In response, the original committee chair, Prof. Robert Shapiro of Columbia University, resigned and the political science department at Hebrew University stopped cooperating with the committee. The committee was subsequently recomposed with Prof. Thomas Risse from Frei University in Berlin taking the helm (Risse was aware that the other people resigned and still took it on), and included such people as Israeli Prof. Avraham Diskin who had previously written articles in support of the radical right wing group Im Tirzu.
This committee, whose members are praised as positivist and empiricist political scientists produced a report that was not only biased but erred on key facts, errors that facilitated its unprecedented conclusion – the department which was established purposefully in order to foster and advance interdisciplinary, critical and qualitative research (the kind of research which is currently under represented in all other political science departments in Israel) was instructed to introduce mainstream positivist political science into its research and curricula. Failing to do so, the Council of Higher Education should consider shutting it down.
This evaluation, which was biased both politically and disciplinarily, was also based on basic factual errors. For example: The committee counted only 50% of the referreed articles published by department members. And while criticizing the department at BGU, they praised the department of political science at Tel-Aviv University which published the same amount of articles but have twice as many faculty members.
In the original report they erroneously stated that faculty members have not published books in leading academic publishing houses, but the nine full-time faculty have, in fact, published six books in the three years prior to the report, of which three appeared in the top 10 academic publishing houses (California, Cornell, Columbia), two more with Routledge, and a sixth with the top press in France.
The excellent quality of scholarship members of the department have produced, and the fact that they are frequent and welcome guest at the best academic institutes (Radcliff College at Harvard, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, the school of public health at Chicago, or Cambridge University) has found little echo in the report. The committee was also not impressed with the average grant per faculty member, which is over $100,000, a relatively high sum in the discipline, and perhaps the highest among political science departments in Israel.
Finally, this fall graduates from the department are beginning their PhDs at universities like Columbia and Northwestern.
On the basis of such errors the committee under-evaluated the department in terms of individual merit, and could easily direct its criticism to the "excessive social activism" of its members – which means nothing but their leftist political leaning – and to the interdisciplinary ethos and of the department (where half of the faculty come from fields like political geography, public health, and history).
For obvious bureaucratic and political reasons, the administration of Ben Gurion University felt it had to comply with the report and directed the department to hire three faculty members in areas mentioned in the report: comparative politics, quantitative methods and political theory and to introduce some changes to the curriculum. Two international evaluators – Thomas Risse and Ellen M. Immergut, appointed by the Council to oversee the implementation of the report, wrote in a letter sent to the Council that they "congratulate the department on successfully recruiting three new faculty members in the areas of comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory, and for its plans for a fourth recruitment next year." They called upon the University to allow these young scholars "the time, resources, and mentoring to publish in top ranked international refereed journals and university presses," in a way that would help the department "fulfill its deficits in mainstream political science," adding that "the department should increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments". No criticism or sanctions were mentioned in this letter.
And yet, last week a sub-committee within the Council of Higher Education followed this letter with a proposal to shut down the department because it failed to comply with the report of the international committee. The gap between the report filed by Risse and Immergut and the decision reached by the sub-committee of the Council of Higher Education underscores that this whole “evaluation process” has turned into a witch hunt, or was such a hunt in disguise from the beginning. For reasons which are difficult – or too easy? – to understand, the authors of the abovementioned letter, professors Risse and Immegut, have failed so far to clarify their opinion about the way their service to the Council of Higher Education has been abused so as to silence excellent academics some of whom happen to be identified as active members of the left in Israel.
Members of the Israeli Council of Higher Education
MK Minister Gideon Sa'ar, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Jacob Vaya, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Dr. Rivka Wadmani Schauman, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Rosa Azhari, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Fadia Nasser, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Haim Sandberg, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Yonina Eldar, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Ezri Tarazi, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Mr. Haim Bibas, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Ella Belfar, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Ora Limor, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Leah Boehm, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Moshe Maor, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Rachel Ben-Eliyahu-Zohary, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Zilla Sinuany, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Orzion Bartana, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Fuad Fares, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Ms. Pnina Felago, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Mr. Uri Kedar, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Shmuel Hauser, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Prof. Chaya Kalcheim, <mailto:[log in to unmask]><mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Dr. Ofir Haivri, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Mr. Itzik Shmuli, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Head of the international Evaluation Committee
Prof. Thomas Risse, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
President and Vice-President of the Freie Universität Berlin
President: Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Vice President (in charge of political science): Professor Werner Väth, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Israeli University Presidents and Rectors
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
President: Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Rector: Prof. Sarah Stroumsa, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
The Open University of Israel
President: Prof. Hagit Messer – Yaron, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Vice President for Academic Affairs: Prof. Judith Gal-Ezer, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
University of Haifa
President: Prof. Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Rector: David Faraggi, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
President: Prof. Peretz Lavie, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Tel Aviv University
President: Prof. Joseph Klafter, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Rector: Prof. Aron Shai, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
President: Prof. Moshe Kaveh, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Rector: Prof. Haim Taitelbaum, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Weizmann Institute of Science
President: Prof. Daniel Zajfman, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
President: Prof. Rivka Carmi, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Rector: Prof. Zvi HaCohen, <mailto:[log in to unmask]>