Ariel University's Status Endorsed by Less Than Half of National Educational Body

Only 11 of 24-member Council for Higher Education showed up at meeting that rubber-stamped controversial decision to give university status to West Bank academic institution.

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Less than half of the Council for Higher Education endorsed on Tuesday Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's decision granting the Ariel University Center of Samaria official status, Haaretz has learned. All told, only 11 of the 24 council members actually showed up at the meeting convened by Sa'ar on Tuesday. One of the members abstained from voting, while the rest supported the measure.

Sa'ar, as the council's chairman, called the meeting at short notice and following the vote announced that the council had endorsed the decision by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education to upgrade the West Bank city's college to official university status. The meeting took place a short while after Sa'ar visited Ariel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Council members furious with Sa'ar's decision to call the meeting at short notice sent him a letter calling to postpone the meeting.

"We don't understand the urgency of this surprise summons [to the meeting] at specifically this time and the need to use an irregular meeting instead of holding a discussion as part of the Council for Higher Education's regular work plan, as called for due to the importance of the issue," the letter read. "The time provided to read the material was not sufficient and did not allow proper preparation ahead of a serious and comprehensive discussion."

The remaining 13 council members not in attendance at Tuesday's meeting didn't show up either as a sign of protest or due to prior scheduling commitments. The legally mandated quorum necessary to convene the council is a minimum of nine members, two less than the number that showed up for the vote.

While the council's decision has no immediate effect on the Ariel center's recognition as a university, it does have broader political implications. The decision represents the first time that Sa'ar has gotten the council to reach a decision regarding academics in the territories. The Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education was itself established in 1997 specifically because the Council for Higher Education refused to deal with issues relating to academic institutions over the Green Line. The Judea and Samaria council's members are appointed by the head of IDF Central Command, whose command includes the West Bank.

The council's recognition is also likely to influence the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities' petition to the High Court of Justice against recognizing the Ariel center as a university. According to the petition, the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education's decision to recognize the college in Ariel as a university was outside that body's authority and in contradiction to the professional opinion of the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee. Now it can be claimed that the relevant national government body has in fact approved the decision.

Ariel UniversityCredit: AP

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