Ben-Gurion Junior Faculty to Go on Strike in Wake of Staff Cuts

The university recently sent dismissal letters to 20 lecturers, with up to 35 to 55 positions to be cut by the end of this round, junior faculty labor committee says.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Junior faculty at Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, along with its English Department, will go on strike Tuesday and tomorrow to protest another round of cuts in the number and pay scale of positions.

Cuts were just announced at Hebrew University as well, for the fourth consecutive year.

According to Amit Shomrat, head of BGU’s junior faculty labor committee, the university recently sent dismissal letters to 20 lecturers, with up to 35 to 55 positions to be cut by the end of this round. There are currently 180 positions Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty.

In addition to these cuts, changes will be made to the pay scale of employment of English lecturers. Shomrat says the university does not intend to fire faculty there but only to downscale their positions by 30 percent, promising that this will remain in place for one year.

Faculty members went on strike two weeks ago with a demand to receive the list of dismissals, but the one provided lacked important details.

Last year the faculty went on strike after it learned that the university was examining a reform based on decreasing numbers of students. The faculty was promised that its member would be notified early in the year of impending dismissals, but Shomrat says this did not happen. Faculty members are insisting that the university find alternatives to dismissals, such as reducing the number of classes.

Hebrew University is also about to fire dozens of members of the humanities faculty for the fourth consecutive year. Haaretz has learned that 33 adjunct instructors and fellows received dismissal notices, with 28 other positions slated for reduction in scope. The university notified its junior faculty association on Sunday of the extent of changes in the humanities faculty for the coming year. The faculty knew that dismissals were coming but their extent was only revealed Monday.

This is the fourth consecutive year in which faculty positions are being slashed at Ben-Gurion University. So far 131 junior faculty members have been fired and 53 positions downscaled. The faculty’s budget has been reduced by 6.5 million shekels ($1.67 million). The junior faculty association has not yet disclosed the moves it will take in response. The list of dismissals came late this year, despite junior faculty requests to receive it earlier in the year. This makes it very difficult for dismissed faculty to seek employment at other institutions of higher learning.

The faculty is trying to improve efficiency while not harming students. Some courses were closed but new ones are also on offer. The Egyptology Department will close but other departments will remain open, even though they have only small numbers of students.

Over the last 25 years, the number of students in the humanities faculty has dropped from 28 percent of the university’s total to 19 percent. Across Israel, they comprise only 11 percent of students pursuing undergraduate degrees.