The Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, whose members are appointed by the IDF commander in the territories, voted Tuesday to upgrade the status of Ariel college to that of a full-fledged university.
The committee of the seven Israeli university presidents issued a statement saying: "This is a political decision and it was preordained. The prime minister now needs to show leadership and prevent a disaster from befalling the higher education system in Israel."
Ariel University Center President Dan Meyerstein hailed Tuesday's announcement, calling it "a historic day for settlement and academia, and also for the state of Israel." The decision was reached at the end of a four-hour meeting at Bar-Ilan University. The Judea and Samaria education council acted against previous recommendations issued by the state Council of Higher Education's Planning and Budgets Committee. Tuesday's endorsement for Israel's first university in the post-1967 territories was catalyzed by support for the Ariel institute from Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who acts also as chairman of the state Council of Higher Education.
Sa'ar called on the Judea and Samaria education council to override the professional recommendation issued by the Planning and Budgets Committee, which ostensibly operates under his supervision.
While the Judea and Samaria council is the highest authority on academia in the West Bank, its endorsement must be confirmed by the army commander in the territories. The Ariel institute would not only become the first university established by Israel over the Green Line, it would also become the first university established by Israel since 1972, and become the country's eighth. After the Judea and Samaria council announced its decision, the head of the Planning and Budgets Committee, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, called on the IDF West Bank commander to take into account his committee's recommendation against university status.
The Judea and Samaria council decision was reached by a vote of eleven members in favor of Ariel University, and two opposed. One of the two opponents, Dr. Avraham Rochli, formerly head of the Lewinsky College for teacher training, said at the end of the meeting: "I thought this was not the right step. Period."
Itzik Shmuli, chairman of Israel's National Student Union and a member of the Council of Higher Education, left Tuesday's Judea and Samaria education council meeting before its conclusion. He said that instead of a professional meeting, the discussion "continued a series of unilateral maneuvers that have been carried out in past days." He said a "black flag" will fly over any decision reached about the Ariel institution, and he announced that student representatives are quitting the Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council. In a letter dispatched to the Judea and Samaria education council, Sa'ar declared: "I find reason to reject allegations holding that the government has intervened in decisions pertaining to higher education in Israel."
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