As usual in this neck of the woods, the headlines are blaring: 'The finance minister has won the battle' and 'Treasury victorious over the universities' and 'Universities fold,'etc. Such headlines do an injustice to the agreement reached on Tuesday between university heads and the supervisor of wages. It's not that the Finance Ministry won and the universities have lost; it's the people of Israel who have done themselves a great service - from which everyone can only benefit.
The agreement reached bears two important messages. The first is that decisive, steadfast and justified public activism is worthwhile. The treasury's supervisor of wages, backed publicly by both the state comptroller and the media, laid down the law that all are equal before the public coffers, and that public money may not be used for excessive wages without being subject to disclosure.
This is an overriding principle that applies both to universities and the Bank of Israel, and hopefully, to the Defense Ministry soon.
This principle is crucial to good management, because public coffers cannot be managed without regulation and supervision. It is ethically essential because the elite in the public sector cannot be permitted to decide their wages without eroding the ethical standard of the entire public sector.
The supervisor of wages, with public support, battled for this principle, and the victory belongs to all of us, including the universities.
The second important tidings in the agreement is the return of institutions of higher learning to the pinnacle of Israeli leadership. They had lost prestige and moral status in the stubborn battle they waged with the treasury over the past decade, a battle to protect undue rights in budgets and wages. That demand hurt their reputations and carried a cost in terms of status among the secular establishment.
It's hard not to regret the severe damage the universities inflicted on their reputation and, by doing so, on all of us. And it's hard not to rejoice that this ethical minefield has now been cleared away, and institutions of higher learning may resume their position as a model of quality, ethical and highly developed public management. We will all benefit.
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