Professors Appeal to High Court Over Dysfunctional Top Academic Body

Academics demand to know why the Council for Higher Education's activities haven't been suspended after resignations left it with less members than legally required.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, January 10, 2016.
Alex Kolomoisky

A group of professors petitioned the High Court of Justice on Friday in a bid to stop Israel’s top academic body from acting without a quorum.

The file was submitted against the Council for Higher Education, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit by 10 professors, all university staff members in Israel.

They also demanded an explanation for why the CHE’s activity has not been suspended, despite it now having only 16 members – three fewer than the legal minimum required.

Some three weeks ago, six professors who represented the universities on the CHE resigned from the education council.

They were protesting Bennett’s conduct and the dismissal of his deputy on the CHE, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, with no explanation. She was replaced by Dr. Rivka Wadmany Shauman.

The petition, submitted by attorney Haran Reichman, was labeled urgent because the CHE is scheduled to hold a quorum meeting as well as subcommittee meetings this Tuesday. The decisions to be made at these meetings will affect the future of higher education, the petition says.

For example, one of the meetings is about a five-year plan for integrating the ultra-Orthodox community into education. Two other subcommittees, whose chairmen are among the professors who resigned, are slated to hold discussions.

The CHE quorum is 25, according to a cabinet decision, and cannot be reduced to less than 19, including the education minister.

The petitioners demand that the court issue an interim order requiring the respondents to set a procedure for appointing CHE members based on clear, uniform and egalitarian criteria, ensuring the status of two-thirds of the members and the appropriate representation required for the various higher education institutes, among other things.

The petitioners also demand an interim order forbidding the respondents from convening the education council and its committees until the court rules on the petition. Alternatively, the court is requested to set an urgent hearing for the petition, or the request for an interim order, before March 15 at 2 P.M., just before the CHE is scheduled to convene.

The petitioners said they only received the court’s response to their preliminary request at midday on Thursday and filed the petition on Friday, following the attorney general’s approval for the CHE to act without a quorum.

The Education Ministry told Haaretz at the time that the council’s activity had been approved because “this was not the CHE’s first appointment, so the ban to hold activity with a quorum of less than 19 members did not apply.”

The ministry also said the council did not have a judicial character and was not required to have a heterogeneous membership with an internal balance to represent various interests, so could act without a quorum.

The professors who signed the petition were Eilon Vaadia, Timor Melamed, Yaakov Pollack, Alon Harel, Isaac Nevo, David Saltz, Eran Feitelson, Idan Segev, Chaim Gans and Osnat Gillor.

Last Tuesday, the Committee of University Heads said they had given Bennett a list of 13 candidates who could replace the professors who resigned, following an understanding between the panel and Bennett.