Council of Higher Education Allowed to Convene Despite anti-Bennett Walkouts

Attorney general says council can meet with reduced complement after six members resigned over Bennett's replacement of deputy head.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a meeting, February 16, 2016.
Moti Milrod

The Council of Higher Education will continue operating in its reduced complement of 16 members, Haaretz has learned. Six council members resigned last Sunday after Education Minister Naftali Bennett replaced the council’s deputy head Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron with Rivka Wadmany Shauman, a move that sparked sharp criticism by academics.

The attorney general gave his approval for the council’s continued operation, sending a letter to remaining members in which he noted that legal considerations led him to conclude that there was no reason the council could not continue working. The next council meeting will be held as scheduled, on March 15. The plenary session scheduled for last week was postponed after the six council members resigned. Remaining members were advised that the next meeting may be longer than usual due to the missed session.

According to the law governing the council, it must consist “of no fewer than 19 and no more than 25 members, including the minister of education.” Following the resignation of the six members, all representatives of universities, only 16 members remain, which should have led to a suspension of its activities. The attorney general’s decision greatly weakens those opposing Bennett’s decision.

The Committee of University Heads was to meet on Thursday after its head, Prof. Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology announced that he would assist Bennett in finding replacements for the resigning members. He has already submitted a list of academic candidates.

On Wednesday, Weizmann Institute of Science President Prof. Daniel Zajfman told his academic staff that he would not submit an alternative candidate to replace their representative on the council. “I do not believe that the problems we’re facing can be addressed by an immediate nomination of new members. The resignation was a symptom of the lack of trust which has developed between the council and Israel’s institutions of higher learning. I believe that we first have to restore that trust and that our efforts should be directed toward this before new appointments are made,” he wrote in an email.

A representative of the council confirmed to Haaretz that they have received approval from the attorney general to convene in a reduced complement.