Opinion

Reject the Academic Code of Ethics

As one of the pioneers in the study of German academia during the transition to Nazi rule, Arik Carmon wants to issue a warning

Professor Asa Kasher
Kobi Gideon

I call on everyone who holds dear the future, integrity and welfare of Israeli science and academia, in all the institutions of higher education, to condemn Prof. Asa Kasher and to boycott his creation: the code of ethics for universities. Ethics in academia and scientific institutions depends on one sacred principle from which it stems — academic freedom. Safeguarding and administering the rules of ethics in these institutions must always be the exclusive responsibility of scientists and academics, completely free of external pressures of any kind. That is the first and essential guarantee for furthering achievements for the benefit of man, society and the state.

A white paper issued in October 2010 by the Council for Higher Education in Israel states: “Academic freedom is a fundamental principle of research and higher education that must be protected in order to ensure excellence in higher education in Israel. It is important for research and instruction, and crucial to Israel’s being a free society. Any attempt to politicize academia must be rejected.”

It also says, “Academic freedom is the freedom to do research and to think without restriction, and in regard to students the institution’s duty is to attempt to expose them, as comprehensively as possible, to the breadth of knowledge and to the relevant arguments in their fields of study during the course of their education. It is the responsibility of the academic institutions to safeguard these provisions.” Also: “We must prevent a situation in which students or lecturers suffer from rejection, silencing, exclusion or prejudice based on personal characteristics or viewpoints, including their political opinions.”

It’s clear that systematic partisan indoctrination in a classroom by teachers is not protected by academic freedom. Lectures and course materials must be free of controversial opinions that are not part of what is being studied. But the document called the code of ethics for universities, which was drafted at the request of a political entity, must be treated as an invasion that pollutes the foundations of ethics in scientific institutions and academia. The ratification of this document, God forbid, could have far-reaching consequences for the future of Israeli academia, because it will bolster politicization.

For example, the code would allow students to demand clarifications from a lecturer whose remarks “give the appearance of political activity.” It also would require lecturers to explain or apologize for any deviation from these directives. Compliance with such a directive would intensify the campaign of informing and the political pressures “from below,” that have already come to the fore in a number of institutions in Israel.

As one of the pioneers in the study of German academia during the transition to Nazi rule, I want to issue a warning. The Gumbel Affair exemplifies the story of the deterioration of German higher education during the Nazi era. Emil Julius Gumbel, a “political activist” who taught mathematical statistics at Heidelberg University was a Jew, a leftist and a pacifist. He, along with the principle of academic freedom, became trapped in the dire straits that brought about the politicization of academia. Gumbel was searching for the middle road between political activism and academic excellence. He repeatedly claimed that as long as it didn’t cause the politicization of the classrooms, he could express his views in total freedom — and in fact had a moral duty to do so.

This is what happened in Heidelberg: The Nazi Students’ League organized protests and petitions to oust the “dirty Jew,” Gumbel. He, the university and the state education minister were unprepared for the decline resulting from the “grassroots” pressure of the student league and political forces outside the university.

The national students’ union, already under Nazi control, demanded that German’s higher education council support the fight against Gumbel, whose goal was “to cleanse the professorial ranks,” and that it support the right of students to choose the lecturers.

The code proposed by Kasher includes sanctions: A violation would result in a note being placed in the teacher’s personal file. Further violations will result in the consideration of additional disciplinary measures. In this regard it is instructive to examine the American Association of University Professors’ Statement on Professional Ethics, which was adopted in 1966 and updated in 1987 and 2009.

The document, promulgated by an academic organization, and not due to external political pressure, says each institution is responsible for enforcing ethical standards, according to its own lights. Kasher’s proposal, permitting a politician — such as the education minister — to impose sanctions, is liable to reinforce the politicization of the universities.

In “The Decline of the German Mandarins,” historian Fritz Ringer summed up the decline of education in Nazi Germany as follows: “Unwittingly, the mandarins prepared the ground for the anti-intellectualism that finally overwhelmed them.” Let us not lend a hand to the real threat to the future of Israeli science and academia.

Arye Carmon, the founding president of the Israel Democracy Institute, specialized in higher education in Germany from 1930-35.