The details coming to light about the Council for Higher Education's decision to close Ben-Gurion University's Department of Politics and Government raise concerns that the matter has been politically motivated and aggressively carried out. The quality of academics seems not to have been at the heart of the decision to prevent new students from enrolling in the department. Rather, there is a desire to punish faculty who dared offer their students a critical viewpoint.
The questions surrounding the unprecedentedly harsh punishment by the council's "subcommittee for quality assurance" are multiplying. It turns out the international experts appointed by the council to oversee the correcting of the department's problems played no part in the decision to close the department.
These experts are not of a caliber that would let their remarks be taken lightly. The fact that the council ignored their updated opinion, which welcomed the changes in the department and recommended that it not be closed, is particularly grating and shows that the outcome had already been decided.
Moreover, while the Council for Higher Education is cracking the whip when it comes to the department at Ben-Gurion, it is lenient toward Bar-Ilan University's Political Science Department, where experts from abroad also found significant problems.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has bent the educational system to his political leanings - from kindergarten, where children learn the national anthem by rote, to visits by older children to Hebron. Sa'ar, who also serves as chairman of the Council for Higher Education, has decided to weed out of the academic world influences not to his taste. That's the line connecting the decision to turn the academic center in Ariel into a university and close Ben-Gurion University's Department of Politics and Government.
The closing of the department can still be prevented at the next meeting of the entire council, which will be required to approve the subcommittee's decision. In that meeting it will become clear whether the council has become a tool to punish critical lecturers and strike fear into the academic world, or whether it will remember its original purpose - to develop higher education and to refrain from intervention.
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