Israeli University Faculty Protest Expansion of Gender-segregated Programs

Academics upset by initiative to encourage Haredi enrollment, which would prevent female lecturers from teaching male ultra-Orthodox students

Ultra-Orthodox students at a psychometric prepartory program in Israel (illustrative).
Emil Salman

Senior faculty heads at most Israeli universities sent a letter to Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday protesting the expansion of gender-segregated academic programs for ultra-Orthodox students.

Last week, the Council for Higher Education in Israel approved opening such classes at Israel’s universities to encourage enrollment of Haredi students as part of a new five-year program.

The letter to Bennett was an unusual step for faculty members, because such groups rarely involve themselves in issues not directly related to their employment conditions and responsibilities.

The letter was sent by faculty groups at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, the University of Haifa and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.

Such classes currently exist only at colleges, university preparatory programs and a special campus at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.

The faculty groups object mainly to the discrimination against female faculty members, who will not be allowed to teach male students in the programs, while male lecturers will be allowed to teach female students.

“The attempt to prevent female faculty members from teaching men will harm the freedom of occupation of all academic faculty,” the letter stated.

The faculty groups are also protesting the plan to hold a pilot program of gender-separated classes on the regular university campuses. So far, such classes have been held only on special campuses outside of the universities.

They also object to accepting religious students who are not Haredim onto these programs.

The new program is intended to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox students from 11,000 to 19,000 by 2022. The education council plans on spending 1.5 billion shekels ($420 million) on the program.

Yet critics say the new program seems to ignore a number of major failings of the previous five-year program to increase Haredi numbers in higher education, including a very high dropout rate – about half of all male students. In addition, complaints have been made about a lower level of studies compared to regular academic programs.