Israeli Panel Urges to Keep Ben-Gurion Political Science Department Open

Five months ago education council endorses report castigating the department for allowing professors political opinions to enter classroom, advising it be closed entirely.

A politics department that faced closure after being censured for allowing professors' personal opinions to enter the curriculum looks set to be reprieved. A team appointed by the Council for Higher Education on Monday recommended not to shutter the Politics and Government Department of Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, following changes in the department, the council said.

Five months ago the education council endorsed a report castigating the department and advising, as a last resort, to close it entirely if the shortcomings it listed were not resolved.

Im Tirtzu activists clashing with students at Tel Aviv University while calling for closure of left-leaning Political Science Department at Ben-Gurion University.
Oren Ziv

At the end of 2011 a report commissioned by the education council on the political science faculties in Israel's universities found severe shortcomings in the Negev university's Politics and Government Department.

Most of the report's 18 recommendations dealt with the department's research and study standard. Two of them, however, dealt with the "political balance" in the curriculum. The report said department students are exposed to their professors' personal political opinions noting: "Lecturers must ensure that their personal opinions are presented as such, so that the students can judge things from a critical perspective and be exposed to a wide range of perspectives and alternatives."

The council endorsed the initial report, issued by its Quality Assessment Subcommittee on political science and international relations, and said the deparment would close down unless it implemented the report's recommendations.

The report recommended strengthening political science's core discipline by increasing the number of lecturers and core courses, supervising the study standard, limiting the number of Ph.D. students and reducing the number of external teachers.

Subcommittee chairman Prof. Thomas Risse and committee member Prof. Ellen Immergut, who are responsible for checking the implementation of the committee's recommendations, sent a letter to the education council saying that, due to the changes made by Ben-Gurion University, closing down the political science department should be removed from the table.

The two commended the university's rector and department head for the efforts to rectify "the situation" regarding the political balance.

However, Risse and Immergut criticized the attempts of faculty members to divert attention away from the significant issues raised in the report by attacking the committee in the media.

The two wrote the department had recruited three new faculty members following the report and was looking for another one. "Four new faculty members will significantly strengthen the department's political science component and address the important issues we raised," they wrote.

They also said the curriculum was improved following the report, but that students must be exposed to modern political theory. They advised updating the syllabus for the introduction for international relations.

After the report was released, more than 150 Israeli and international academics asked the education council to ignore the recommendation to close the department. The department has been accused of having an "anti-Zionist" bias.

Faculty members from universities including Yale, Columbia and Cornell signed a petition to say they were convinced that the recommendations of an international committee assessing eight of Israel's political science departments were politically motivated.