Two Knesset committees on Tuesday gave the Council for Higher Education three months to formulate bylaws for handling sexual harassment complaints that would be binding on all academic institutions.
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The Knesset Education Committee and the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women called their joint meeting to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in academia, which was detailed at length in a state comptroller's report published about two weeks ago.
The National Union of Israeli Students formulated its own proposed bylaws on the issue two years ago in cooperation with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, and it submitted them to the CHE last week. But union members said the CHE wants to formulate only broad general principles, and they are skeptical about its willingness to enforce detailed bylaws.
"The union wants the CHE to use its regulatory powers to impose [the proposed] bylaws, and the CHE says it can't impose them," said student union chairman Uri Reshtik. "Sexual harassment is occurring under the auspices of academic freedom. The CHE is the system's regulator, and if problems have been discovered in the system, the regulator should promulgate rules and take care to enforce them. The minute you subordinate it to academic freedom, you're giving protection to sexual harassment."
At Tuesday's Knesset meeting, Avi Lev, an aide to the CHE's director general, said there was disagreement within the CHE over how to deal with sexual harassment, including questions about how to preserve each institution's independence and whether uniform bylaws would really be effective. "The colleges are constructed differently from the universities; would a general rule for everyone solve the problem?" he asked.
But the MKs disagreed. They demanded that the CHE draft clear, uniform laws, in coordination with the NUIS, and present them to the two committees within three months.
In December, the NUIS asked the CHE to publish data on the number and type of sexual harassment complaints filed at each institution and how they were handled, but the CHE said it is legally barred from publishing such information.
A student union survey presented to the Knesset meeting found that 17.9 percent of students said they had been sexually harassed by a lecturer, a preceptor or another student, but 75 percent of them never complained. And of those who did complain to someone, only 5 percent went to the person in charge of sexual harassment at their institution.