Prof. Yaron Ilan - Michal Fattal
Prof. Yaron Ilan, above, was accused by Hebrew University of improper research conduct. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Tensions between Hadassah University Hospital and the Hebrew University are growing, as the disciplinary hearing on Prof. Yaron Ilan - who is affiliated with both institutions - nears. Ilan was accused last year by the rector of Hebrew University, Sarah Stroumsa, of improper research procedures and of aggressive behavior toward researchers under his guidance.

Last week, during a dramatic session of the faculty of medicine council on Hebrew University's Ein Karem campus, the chairman of Hadassah's senior council of physicians, Prof. Avinoam Reches, read an unusually harsh letter condemning Stroumsa's handling of the matter.

The tension between the two institutions, which have a long-standing history of close cooperation, began with Stroumsa's decision in June 2010 to take action against Ilan, the head of Hadassah Ein Karem's Department of Internal Medicine A and a senior researcher on the faculty of Hebrew University's school of medicine.

Stroumsa's decision followed the recommendations of a panel that had reviewed Ilan's actions. The panel, headed by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer of the law faculty, was defined as informal and dozens of witnesses appeared before it.

In June 2010, Stroumsa wrote an unusually strongly worded letter in which she accused Ilan of negligence in two studies conducted under the auspices of the university, and of aggressive behavior toward young researchers under his tutelage. She also used the letter to announce the decision to suspend Ilan from teaching and supervising students, and bar him from submitting any requests to university research funds, for three years.

In October, Stroumsa even sent the academic secretariat a reminder on the matter, requesting that Ilan be prevented from publishing articles or presenting research proposals in the framework of the university.

The next month, Prof. Miriam Gur-Arye, who oversees the discipline of the university's academic employees, announced that Ilan would soon be charged with disciplinary violations, pursuant to the hearing.

In response, the Hadassah administration unequivocally stood by Ilan, while leveling harsh accusations against the university's handling of the matter - a sequence of events that sparked questions and criticisms among some of the hospital's physicians. In recent months, meetings between the president of Hebrew University and senior officials at Hadassah Hospital have been held in an attempt to bridge the gaps, but these have been unsuccessful.

Hadassah hits back

At a meeting last week attended by Stroumsa and some 200 physicians on the university staff, Reches noted that his position represents that of the joint committee of department heads and senior physicians at Hadassah. He argued that Stroumsa deviated from her authority and acted contrary to the university's regulations, which do not allow for an informal panel to be set up.

Reches further argued that the panel never met with Ilan before reaching its conclusions, and that the hospital's director, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, was also not involved in them.

Prior to the hearing, Reches added, Hebrew University decided to freeze the proceedings Stroumsa had announced in June, but Ilan was still advised to voluntarily accept the sanctions imposed on him. According to Reches, the recommendation "hints, at least ostensibly, that in the eyes of the university, Prof. Ilan is guilty to begin with."

Later on, Reches announced that a legal opinion commissioned by the joint committee of Hadassah physicians to investigate the actions taken by Stroumsa found that "the rector deviated from her authority and acted in complete contravention of the university's regulations" in the steps she took, given that the school's regulations do not allow for the formation of an informal panel and, in any case, such a panel does not possess any authority and its conclusions lack validity.

During last week's hearing, Reches called for a disciplinary proceeding in which the findings of the informal panel will not be presented to Gur-Arye and which relies solely on an open complaint. He also attacked Stroumsa personally using harsh language.

"The origin of the word 'rector' is Latin and it means 'despot,'" he said. "Unfortunately, the rector used a far-reaching definition of her job and served as the accuser, the judge and the executor."

Later in the hearing, when Stroumsa did not respond to his remarks, instead announcing that she is barred from commenting on matters in the midst of legal proceedings, Reches left the room in protest along with 30 other physicians.

"The Hebrew University cannot be run using kangaroo courts of its senior members," Reches said. "The university regulations were intended to prevent inappropriate proceedings of this kind. Unfortunately the rector, who is supposed to uphold these regulations, bluntly trod on them instead. It is sad that the rector rejected a rare opportunity to preserve her dignity and status and admit at the meeting of the faculty council to the mistakes she made."

In November of last year, Ilan himself filed a complaint against the Hebrew University in the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, in which he claimed that the committee's findings "lacked any basis and are mistaken." He also said the steps taken against him were conducted without any disciplinary proceeding and were contrary to procedure and the university's disciplinary regulations.

"The university's actions were based on [outside] considerations, with one goal before it: to find something that would incriminate Ilan," the complaint further argued.

The Hebrew University released the following response: "All of the rector's actions in the matter are legal and were done in accordance with the university's regulations, with the goal of protecting the students under Prof. Ilan's supervision and preventing damage to the university. As part of the effort to look into the disciplinary complaint, Ilan was invited to a hearing to ascertain whether he should face disciplinary proceedings.

"To enable the supervisor of discipline to conduct the hearing unhindered at this stage, and in consultation with the rector, it was decided to end the academic measures taken thus far.

"If as a result of the hearing it is decided that [Ilan] will face disciplinary proceedings, we will also consider approaching the court president with a request to take similar action that will prevent harm to the university and its students. In the interim, the university has proposed that Prof. Ilan refrain from supervising any research students and from submitting any research proposals in the university's name."