The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, which was established in the 1990s as a private college and about two years ago was given authority to grant doctoral degrees, has announced it will no longer call itself a center, but rather a university. In addition, IDC said it is changing its name to Reichman University, in honor of its founder and president, Prof. Uriel Reichman, who plans to retire in December 2021.
Announcement of the name change, which came at the initiative of the chairman of IDC’s board of directors, Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, a former Israeli education minister, prompted strong objection on Monday from Israel’s Council for Higher Education.
“By law, we are entitled to call ourselves a university,” IDC said, “based on our being a research institution that has been authorized by international committees and the Council for Higher Education to grant doctoral degrees in law, psychology and computer sciences.”
Sources at the council claimed IDC’s decision to change its name was taken in an underhanded manner, without the necessary approval of the Council for Higher Education. Earlier in the day, IDC said that its decision to change its name was subject to the approval of the Registrar of Companies.
The aim of the change, IDC explained, is to“faithfully reflect its nature as an academic research institution that grants doctoral degrees and operates in accordance to the strictest academic standards.”
In a letter to IDC, the director general of the Council for Higher Education, Michal Neumann, wrote that the council had accorded recognition to the Interdisciplinary Center and not to Reichman University. “Therefore the change to Reichman University does not constitute a name change, but rather a change in recognition of an institution. Therefore to the extent to that the institution is seeking to receive recognition as a university, it has to submit an orderly request to the Council for Higher Education and receive its approval,” Neumann wrote. Otherwise, she added, IDC would not be authorized to call itself a university.
IDC took the decision to call itself a university after obtaining approval for doctoral programs in computer sciences and psychology, following earlier authority to grant a Ph.D. degree in law, but the higher education council claims that this, in and of itself, does not give it the right to call itself a university. Furthermore, the council claimed that IDC currently only has five doctoral students.
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To date, only two universities in Israel have been named after people: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, named after the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and Bar-Ilan University, after religious Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan. In addition, the Weizmann Institute of Science, which grants post-graduate degrees, is named after Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, who was involved in its establishment.
IDC is not funded by the Council for Higher Education but is subject to its oversight. In the past, the council demanded that Reichman retire, as its rules limit presidents of universities and colleges to 12 years in office, and he has already held the position for 26 years.
After he refused to retire, the council conditioned its approval for granting doctoral degrees on his retirement. Ultimately, the education minister at the time, Naftali Bennett, who as minister also chaired the council, initiated a process to authorize IDC to grant doctorates, without any connection to Reichman’s stepping down.
For many years, there has been hostility between the IDC president and Israel’s public universities. He coined the term “the university cartel,” a label that Bennett also made use of. For years, Reichman charged that the universities were trying to hinder the development of the Interdisciplinary Center, while the universities protested that the center was exploiting the fact that it was not subject to regulation of its tuition fees and faculty salaries, to the detriment of the universities.
The universities also objected to permitting IDC to confer doctoral degrees and were critical of its level of research. Reichman said the universities’ claims were baseless.
A source at one public university said on Monday that “the name change matches the elitism and the alienation that the institution radiates.”
IDC, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya, has about 7,500 students. Tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree range from 42,000 to 48,500 shekels annually ($12,000 to $14,000), four times what is charged at public universities. About 72 percent of IDC’s income is from student tuition fees, with the balance coming from donations and research revenue.
For his part, Amnon Rubinstein, the chairman of the IDC board, said: “Transforming the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya into a university is an important milestone in the higher education system in Israel. In this way, Israel is joining the list of countries in which, along with institutions funded by the state, excellent elite private institutions also operate. Reichman is a public figure and educator to the very depths of his soul and during his entire life has contributed to the State of Israel and strengthened its image as a liberal democracy.”
“Reichman has been involved in important public initiatives, first and foremost a constitution for Israel, but his life’s greatest enterprise has been the educational and Zionist enterprise of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya,” Rubinstein said. “Were it not for Reichman, who conceived the idea of its establishment and brought it to fruition with extraordinary talent and devotion, the Interdisciplinary Center would not have arisen, and there is no one worthier than he of having a university named after him.”