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There are seven universities in Israel (not counting the Open University ) and several dozen colleges. The University of Haifa was the latest one added to the list, having received accreditation in 1972, 40 years ago.

It was inevitable that some of the colleges established in the years since then would attain increasingly higher scholastic standards and would strive to be accredited as the eighth Israeli university. It is generally recognized that the Ariel University Center of Samaria has reached the highest scholastic standards among the country's many colleges. It engages in wide-ranging research in many fields and grants advanced degrees, and from an academic standpoint, it might very well be ranked higher than some of the existing universities.

Has the time come for the Ariel University Center, now that it has successfully met academic goals set for it five years ago, to be accredited as a university by the Council for Higher Education, alongside the Technion, the Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, University of Haifa, and Ben-Gurion University? The readers of this column, some of whom may be suffering from high blood-pressure since this issue came up, may test their opinion on this question by identifying with one of the following three alternative answers:

1.It should never be accredited as a university: Seven universities in Israel are enough.

2.No academic institution located beyond the 1949 armistice lines should be accredited as a university.

3.The only criterion for accrediting an educational institution as a university should be its academic standards in teaching and research. If it meets the required standards it should be accredited as a university.

Strangely enough, but not surprisingly, the presidents of Israel's seven existing universities, meeting in conclave, chose the first alternative as a reason for their opposition to an upgrade for Ariel. In their opinion, seven universities are enough for Israel. They fear that the addition of another university would mean a reduction in the budgetary allocations to their universities, and would therefore, they conclude, harm academic education in Israel.

One might expect such a competitive approach from an industrial cartel, perhaps. But, university presidents, one might have hoped, would rise to a somewhat higher level. University presidents might be expected to address more than just the question of whether academic competition might harm their institutions, but also whether it would be good for the country. That was, evidently, too much to expect.

The fact is that thousands of Israeli academics are currently working at foreign academic institutions. Only another university, or possibly more than one, could create the job opportunities in Israel that would bring them back home. As university presidents should know, too much education is an oxymoron.

The second alternative is obviously chosen by those who will not set foot over the 1949 armistice lines, consider all territory beyond that line as occupied territory, insist on boycotting any and all institutions located there, and would oppose accrediting the Ariel University Center of Samaria, regardless of its academic achievements.

The third alternative would seem the most reasonable. Academic education and research should be divorced from politics, and should be judged only by academic standards. The intrusion of politics into the academic world was commonplace in totalitarian societies in past years, caused great damage to the level of research in those countries, and is hardly an acceptable norm in modern societies. Limiting the number of universities by edict, deciding that seven is a magic number not to be exceeded, seems hardly befitting men and women engaged in academic research.

Professor Daniel Zajfman, the president of the Weitzmann Institute of Science, thought it necessary to add to the decision of the assembled presidents of Israeli universities that seven universities are sufficient, a declaration that if university status were to be granted to the Ariel University Center, the Weizmann Institute would boycott this university. Just how this boycott would be enforced on the scientists at the Weizmann Institute he did not spell out.

Last, but not least, more than 10,000 Israeli students from all over the country, both Jews and Arabs, are studying at the Ariel University Center of Samaria. They were not represented at the conclave of university presidents, nor do they have a vote in the Council for Higher Education. But they are voting with their feet by attending classes and doing research at an academic institution they feel is worthy of being a university.


Moshe Arens is the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Ariel University Center of Samaria.