Researchers Protest Bennett's Candidate for Academic Council

Group of 45 academics warn that Bennett's plan to replace vice-chair of higher education council with a less experienced candidate politicizes the position.

Naftali Bennett
Ofer Vaknin

A group of 45 academics sent a letter to members of the Council for Higher Education of Israel, protesting Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s candidate for vice chairwoman on the grounds that he is politicizing the position.

Bennett is pushing for Rivka Wadmany Shauman, a council member and head of planning and development at Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, to replace Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron. Bennett dismissed Messer-Yaron over a month ago, but because by law the education minister is not authorized to hire or fire the vice chairwoman, he needs the council’s approval. A secret ballot is scheduled for next week. Messer-Yaron is still technically the vice chairwoman. The appointment would be for a year, when the council completes its current term.

Wadmany Shauman is an atypical candidate because she only received her Ph.D. in 2004 and is not a full professor. Bennett told the council he chose Wadmany Shauman in order to maintain. He said  the appointment was urgent because the council is due to begin drafting its five-year plan for higher education.

In its letter, the group claimed that Bennett had dismissed Messer-Yaron without providing a good reason for doing so.  Messer-Yaron, a professor of electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University, is considered to be a professional figure who has made a significant contribution in her two years of leadership in the council.

“The proper path the education minister should have taken before deciding to dismiss Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron would have been to raise with her the arguments and considerations driving him to take such a step and to allow her — openly and with readiness to be convinced otherwise — to respond to the criticism,” the academics wrote. “That is what natural justice demands and is the most basic aspect of administrative law. This was not done.”

Prof. Peretz Lavie, the chairman of the Association of University Heads of Israel, said: “The university presidents understand the appointment is temporary. The CHE term is about to end, and then a chairman will be chosen for the next term. We are convinced the minister will listen to academia before appointing the next vice chairperson.”

Rivka Wadmany Shauman
Ayelet Shoval