The Hebrew University of Jerusalem won a controversial tender to run an academic excellence program for the Israel Defense Forces' Intelligence Corps, the Defense Ministry announced Sunday.
As Haaretz reported last month, the tender, which stipulates that students wear army uniforms and carry their personal firearms on campus, drew criticism from senior academic figures who said it presents "marked pedagogical difficulty and makes it difficult for the students to integrate socially into university life."
Responding to an Haaretz inquiry, the Israeli army denied soldiers will be armed on campus, and added that the terms of the current tender were approved by the Council for Higher Education.
The program, known as Havatzalot, offers three-year training for future intelligence officers, as part of their mandatory army service. It includes basic training at combat level, officer training, a bachelor’s degree and military intelligence and leadership training.
For their degree, students will take a double major. The first concentration will be Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and for the second they can choose between mathematics, economics, philosophy or computer studies.
Cooperation between the IDF and Israeli academia isn't new, with universities and colleges offering various services for the army and other security agencies. The Havatzalot program itself has been hosted by Haifa University since its founding 14 years ago.
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However, the most recent tender includes some clauses dubbed by critics as detrimental to campus life. The IDF requires that entry to the living quarters of the soldier-students and IDF staff members, which must be within the campus, be by biometric pass only.
Additionally, no unauthorized university personnel will be allowed into the soldiers’ or IDF staff’s quarters, security cameras will cover all entrances to living quarters, as well as all staff and administration buildings.
The university will also have to provide the army with personal information about university staff, including any sub-contractors, security guards, administration employees and maintenance staff.
Furthermore, lecturers will apprise the army of the students’ achievements, grades and attendance, once the soldier-students have signed a release. The program’s commander will be permitted to discuss students with their lecturers without the students’ prior knowledge, and allowed to discuss underperforming students with representatives of the university and be informed of any academic decisions before the students in question.
The deputy head of procurement in Israel's Defense Ministry, Bracha Hertz, said Havatzalot will open at Hebrew University in the coming academic year, which begins in October 2019. "All along the way we made sure to maintain the important balance between the program of military excellence and complete academic freedom," she added.
Hebrew University President Prof. Asher Cohen said he is "proud" of the tender's results, "which serve further evidence of the high academic standard at the Hebrew University, which from now on will be a partner in … training of Intelligence Corps soldiers in the challenging Havatzalot program."