Bar-Ilan University was fined by the Council of Higher Education on Tuesday for admitting students without bachelor's degrees to graduate programs.
The council's oversight and enforcement committee rejected Bar-Ilan's appeal of an earlier decision to forbid any special exceptions for students without bachelors degrees from applying to advanced programs. The investigation was launched after Haaretz revealed that Bar-Ilan had accepted journalist Yair Lapid directly to a master's and then to a doctoral program despite the fact that he did not hold a B.A. degree.
The committee also rejected the university's request to allow students currently enrolled in graduate programs to finish their degrees without first having to complete a bachelor's degree. The panel ruled that Bar-Ilan will be responsible for financing the undergraduate degrees of students who were enrolled in violation of the Council of Higher Education's guidelines.
In an exceptional move, the committee slapped a fine on the university for violating procedure. The amount of the fine will be determined by the council's planning and budget committee.
According to the oversight committee, its investigation showed that Bar-Ilan was the only university in Israel to grant graduate degrees to students who had no bachelor's degree.
"The committee views this option offered by Bar-Ilan very gravely," the committee wrote in its ruling, stressing that this constituted "a fundamental deviation from proper academic standards."
Bar-Ilan noted that since the university's founding, only 30 students had been enrolled under these conditions, "and all of them have exceptional experience and training in their fields, with outstanding and demonstrable achievements."
Among them is Lapid, a television personality and current political hopeful, who was accepted into Bar-Ilan's prestigious culture and interpretation graduate program. The program normally accepts only candidates who hold B.A. degree with honors, but the requirement was waived for Lapid because of his extensive experience.
Bar-Ilan also refuted the oversight committee's claims that these flexible admissions standards exist only at Bar-Ilan.
"Other academic institutions, in Israel and throughout the world, understand the justification for maintaining such a process," the university stated.
Bar-Ilan officials added the public debate on the issue has prompted expressions of support from numerous prominent academics, among them Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Aharon Ciechanover.
A spokesman for Bar-Ilan also noted that this flexible admissions process has been part of the university's regulations for decades and was already known to the Council of Higher Education.
Prof. Avi Sagi, who heads the program in which Lapid enrolled, had said before yesterday's ruling that if the council's decision was allowed to stand, it would be "a black day for academia, which will thus close its gates to new possibilities, originality and innovation."
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