Since the academic year that began on Sunday could be the last one for Ben-Gurion University's controversial Department of Politics and Government, the department's future was naturally the main topic in its hallways and classrooms.
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"Every person has the right to express his opinion," lecturer Noam Hofstetter said at the opening session of his freshmen class, Introduction to Politics and Government. He added: "We will keep a political balance - and separate between opinions and study materials. Everyone will have the right to say what they think."
A subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education decided last month not to allow new students to enroll in the department next year - tantamount to a call for its closure. Next week the council plenum will convene on whether to approve the decision. A BGU student protest is planned against the department's closure.
The subcommittee's move has been applauded by rightists such as the Im Tirtzu movement, who have long targeted the department as a hotbed of anti-Zionists. However, academics led by BGU President Rivka Carmi, who also chairs the Committee of University Heads, have deplored the effort to close the department, calling it a grave threat to academic freedom.
Most of the department students interviewed agreed that there should be changes. "Some things have to be put right here," said Ido, a second-year student, "We all agree to that. But the idea of closing the department is taking it too far. Closing it down won't solve anything. The department offers all students tools for critical thinking, not only in terms of left and right." Ido said he was positive the decision to close the department was strictly political. "Anything related to the Council for Higher Education is political," he said. "It isn't surprising that the Minister of Education - the man responsible for the public school tours in Hebron - says that it isn't political."
Another student, Boaz Ze'ira, an activist in Im Tirtzu, said the department must be closed. "The huge majority of the lecturers are post-Zionists, and that says it all. It's the buddy system. There's no pluralism. The essays we are given to read are one-sided, and the department hasn't carried out its commitments to introduce changes and act according to procedures."
A year ago the council established an international professional committee for all university political science departments. The committee recommended several changes in the BGU department, which were implemented by the university. Although an international panel of experts determined that the department had fulfilled its commitments, a council subcommittee recommended its closure.