Making higher education accessible to all is a sublime idea, the implementation of which is rife with acts of folly. One example is the Students' Rights Law, enacted in May 2007 and amended in November 2008. Its headline is reminiscent of children who exclaim, after disobeying their parents, "but it's my right!"
The law's fundamental, much-needed purpose is to enable every person in Israel to apply for admission to an institution of higher education without facing discrimination on grounds of "ethnic origin, descent, socioeconomic background, religion, nationality, sex or place of residence."
Apart from permitting educational institutions to set requirements for admission and for continuing on to the next year of study, as well as requiring applicants to submit relevant information, the law emphasizes prospective students' right to the means of obtaining education.
This refers to an equal right to receive scholarships, to be late due to army reserve service, to unionize and also to earn good grades. Students must be advised of final examination dates months in advance, have access to every examination or paper after it has been graded and be permitted to appeal grades and to take the exam on a second date without restrictions.
These rights do not reflect the system's soundness. They merely reflect the lack of confidence between those in charge and their students. It is a pattern born not in academe but in earlier stages of Israelis' lives.
Parents dictate to kindergarten teachers, schoolteachers and army commanders what their children should do. Schoolchildren disrupt their classmates' studies and there is no way to restrain them. When they want to, they take makeup exams to improve their grades, and sometimes grades are even omitted from their diplomas.
Parents' involvement could have been welcome, had they accepted educators and commanders' authority and right to exercise professional judgment. True, not all educators and commanders have been blessed with common sense and sufficient education, but the sweeping statements about their stupidity must stop.
The same goes for fostering mistrust on the part of young Israelis toward those with professional authority who are supposed to educate them in university. Removing the restrictions from taking exams a second time and appealing grades fosters two ills. One is the tendency to study less. If demonstrating meager and shallow knowledge in the first exam gives students the right to appeal their grade and retake the exam, then why make the effort to begin with?
University teachers don't want to give exams that do not test knowledge deeply, so they are likely to give weak students a passing grade the first time around and add a few points to their grades and spare themselves the wretched prospect of holding the exam again.
A more serious problem is the academic interpretation of "everything is justiciable." So what if the professor deemed a paper unacceptable? Perhaps on reading the student's appeal she will find reasons to accept some of the students' complaints, including "I meant to write" or "what I wanted to say was..."
A democratic state should protect its citizens' rights. But the price exacted by the Students' Rights Law is too high. The possibility of devaluing study and obtaining diplomas that conceal laziness and ignorance will permeate to other realms of life and to the education of future generations.
The right to appeal every authority will also undermine the authority of the main bodies upholding democracy - the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of the government.
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