Ditch the Old-school Thinking

If we always follow the hard-and-fast rules without any deviation or creativity, we shall certainly miss extraordinary talents and unusual people, and merely get a great deal of boring mediocrity.

Efi Arazi, the founder of the Israeli high-tech company Scitex, was not the most diligent pupil in his class. Truth to tell, he hardly even went to school. He did not finish high school and did not gain his matriculation certificate. At the age of 16 and a half, he forced his parents to sign a document agreeing to let him enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. There he was assigned to the Air Force and sent to study at its technical school in Haifa. He served as a radar technician and after his release from the army, tried to get accepted to study electronic engineering at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. But they didn't even dream of accepting him. After all, the sheygetz (young "non-Jew" ) didn't even have a matriculation certificate!

In those far-off days in the late 1950s, Arazi heard a distant rumor that, in special cases, it was possible to be accepted to American universities without a matriculation certificate, but no one could confirm that the rumor was correct.

The only university that Arazi had heard of was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So he went to the American embassy, filled out a registration form, and later went to Boston. When he was asked, during the interview before being accepted, where his matriculation certificate was, he replied that although he did not have one, he had studied at the Israeli air force's technical school and since that was a military school, he did not have any certificate from there.

The members of the acceptance committee exchanged looks, understood that they were dealing with an unusual kind of freak, and decided to accept him under the heading of "extraordinary cases."

Arazi completed a bachelor's degree at MIT, and paid for his studies by working in a laboratory in the field of digital photography. While there, he succeeded in obtaining a budget worth millions of dollars from NASA, in order to develop the camera subsequently used in the historic live broadcast of Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon in July 1969.

After leaving MIT, he worked for a while in an American high-tech company and then returned home. And here in Israel, in 1968, he founded Scitex.

It is impossible to describe our high-tech industry without the innovations, inventions and advanced management systems that Arazi introduced to Scitex. The company constituted a turning point in Israeli industry. Under his direction, it became the flagship of Israeli high tech. Scitex developed the world's first digital prepress computer computer and for years was one of the leading companies in the world in processing color pictures by computer.

That was the story I recalled when I read the harsh criticism being leveled currently against Bar-Ilan University and Yair Lapid, because the university dared accept him to a program for master's and doctoral studies when he does not have a bachelor's degree.

The Council for Higher Education showed unusual alacrity in this case. It immediately began an inquiry and announced with lightning speed that Bar-Ilan's explanations were unacceptable. Is this perhaps connected with the fact that the head of the council is Education Minister (and Likud member ) Gideon Sa'ar?

The university said in its defense that Lapid had been accepted on the basis of his literary and journalistic achievements, and that this was anchored in the university's regulations under the paragraph dealing with "extraordinary cases." Bar-Ilan noted that in recent years, 20 students had been accepted to that program, including managers, accountants, writers and journalists. However, the members of the council were not impressed by the explanations. They do not believe in academic freedom and therefore extended their investigation to all universities - perhaps the others had also sinned?

Contrary to the criticism, I actually see something positive in giving "special cases" outside of the ordinary track the possibility of being accepted to institutions - whether to higher learning or courses in the army, as well as senior positions in the public and private sectors. Because if we always follow the hard-and-fast rules without any deviation or creativity, we shall certainly miss extraordinary talents and unusual people, and merely get a great deal of boring mediocrity.

Therefore I suggest to the council not to be satisfied merely with examining all the universities in Israel. They should also turn to MIT and examine the process under which Arazi was accepted. And if it turns out that the Americans indeed did commit the crime, they should immediately cancel Arazi's B.A., store away the film of Armstrong on the moon and cancel the establishment of Scitex. After all, that sheygetz didn't even have a matriculation certificate.