This week, full page ads sponsored by the Besha'ar non-profit organization appeared in the press, calling for the government to throw out the Finance Ministry's proposal to "improve further education" as outlined in the Economic Arrangements Bill. The proposal would hit research universities with rigid organizational structures, harming personnel in academia and research.
Besha'ar is a voluntary organization of some 700 academics from all Israeli universities, and it is natural that they should worry over changes, but are they right? Does anyone doubt the importance of academic research and education?
The trouble with Israeli research universities - other than the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa - is their dual structure, characterized by two parallel lines of administration. Heading one such administrative ladder is the board of trustees, which appoints members of the working committee and the university president, in effect the CEO. But the CEO is emasculated when there is also the other management structure headed by the Senate, which is the higher academic authority, whose decisions apply to all the university's academic parts. The senate picks the rector, who is not subservient to the president. The deans of the various faculties are also neither appointed nor subject to the president, but chosen by the faculty council. In other words, the academic staff elect their own managers.
The structure is an outdated one, created first in Germany in the 19th century, and no longer suitable. The management structure practiced in the U.S. and most western states is based on one hierarchical system, with all senior positions subservient to the president.
The double structure creates many managerial problems and conflicts of interest. It is inefficient and wasteful, in its decisions on the running of courses, classes and faculties and also on questions on numbers of senior staffers. There are cases where individuals sit in both streams of management so they have to worry about the efficiency of the university's management, while also claiming higher wages and better work conditions for their work colleagues. Not every faculty is strict on setting the number of lecture hours its staff must provide, nor on extra-curricular activities. There are even members of the academic staff who sit on the management boards of competing institutions.
The dual structure is a hybrid of a company and a cooperative, most clearly demonstrated at Tel Aviv University, less so at Haifa and at Ben-Gurion, while the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University have systems that fall somewhere between the dual and the hierarchical. The Technion and the Weizmann Institute run completely hierarchical systems, which is highly recommended.
The Meltz Committee has already concluded that the dual system is inappropriate, and that all should move to a hierarchical structure. This week, the government decided to transfer the matter to the Committee on Planning and Budgets to reach its recommendations within two months, and to implement its findings within a year. The public finances some NIS 5 billion to further education, and it deserves efficient, modern management, for the benefit of all - including the 700 members of Besha'ar.
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