Monday, January 30, 2012

Shanda!! The Growing Disgrace at Ben Gurion University

Shut it Down, Don't Try to Make it "Balanced"!!

By Professor Israel David, Ben Gurion University
Ope-ed in Maariv, January 30, 2012
(translated by Steven Plaut, Isracampus)

Complete closing down of the Department of Politics and Government at
Ben Gurion University is Now Essential

Ben Gurion University has found itself at a fork in the road, where
it is being required to provide clear and non-evasive answers to
Israel's Council on Higher Education, the public body that oversees
higher education in Israel. As the reader no doubt recalls, this
Council earlier appointed an international panel of professional
evaluation for the department of politics at BGU, and that panel
recommended shutting down the department of politics altogether,
unless the severe academic and professional shoddiness and
incompetence there would be cured. Numerous academics publicly
endorsed the panel's criticisms and recommendations. There was some
dissent however regarding the panel's sharp criticism of the BGU
department of politics for its absence of any balance or pluralism.
Complaints about the absence of balance have been voiced by many,
including the "Im Tirtzu" Zionist student movement. Even the
President of Ben Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi, published her
own announcement in the media with reference to the recent politics
departmental "conference," in which she expressed disappointment at
the lack of balance and pluralism there.

Anyone with any sense of how academia works will understand at once
that the members of the panel were trying to avoid explicitly
addressing the heart of the problems here, and preferred to prettify
them by attributing them to the absence of "balance." Let us say
upfront that there is no real basis for mandating that "balance" be
maintained at academic conferences. A conference of physicists
describing the roundness of the earth need not grant equal time to
those insisting the earth is flat. So just what sort of "balance" is
deemed desirable and who should establish the rules for it?

There are indeed quite a few "imbalances" at Ben Gurion
University. Take for example the fact that nine out of the eleven
tenured faculty members in the department of politics at BGU, as well
as a great many of the non-tenured faculty members there, are radical
extremist seditious far-leftist activists. (Actually, all 11 are –
Isracampus) The chance that such a department could have emerged by
chance is far lower than the chance of winning millions in the
lottery. It should be noted that no similar "coincidence" can be
found at any other university! Therefore there can be no doubt that
this department was constructed intentionally using the "One friend
brings in another friend" method of nepotism, and that in turn is the
source of the absence of professional and scientific standards in the
department. When the international panel complained about the absence
of core subjects in the curriculum and research of the department of
politics, the department members themselves not only conceded that the
point was correct but expressed pride in it! The result is that the
Arab-Israeli conflict (or the leftist anti-Israel take on it) occupies
over 90% of the focus of attention in the department of politics at
BGU. At no university in the world would you find a situation where
90% of the faculty in physics are all dealing with a single sub-topic
within the discipline. There are oodles of topics in physics
deserving of attention. Nor would a basic physics course consist only
of citations of a single scientist because the instructor happened to
have studied that scientist, even if that scientist were Einstein.

The imbalance of interest when it comes to the department of
politics is the imbalance of purpose. The bulk of faculty members in
the department have no idea what the mission of an academic
institution is. The current chairman of the department, Dr. Dani
Filc, responded to the recommendation of the international panel,
speaking on Israel's Channel Two television. "It is a plot to
silence us," he said, and here we see the nucleus of the problem.
Filc believes the mission of the department is advocacy, whereas the
proper mission of an academic unit is research and instruction. Much
more serious is Filc's inability to understand that it is NOT a proper
function for an academic department to persecute and harass Israeli
army officers, smearing them as "war criminals," nor to vandalize
Israeli military security points and checkpoints, nor to infiltrate
illegally into Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and there get
photographed in warm embrace with Arafat (which a faculty member in
this department has already done), nor to organize violent illegal
"protests" (some of which have already been the subject of prosecution
in BGU disciplinary committees). Such circus activities have no place
in academia. They interfere with and distort all efforts at education
and research. Moreover, the shenanigans of the department of politics
at BGU undermine the reputation of every one of us at BGU. Those
indeed were the very words of President Rivka Carmi in a statement
issued in response to the calls by Neve Gordon (who was department
chairman at the time) in the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian (UK)
for an international boycott against Israel!

Shutting down the department of politics at BGU is a matter of
great seriousness. There are precedents in Israel for doing so. Where
there was significant student demand for studies in such a department,
then in those precedent cases the department was completely rebuilt
from scratch after a respite. And that is what has to be done at BGU!

Israel David teaches mathematics and operations research at Ben Gurion

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