Schools Told to Let Sunshine in on Faculty Promotion Meetings

The reasons for a decision to reject a candidate will have to be revealed, although not the identity of those who voiced them.

The High Court of Justice ruled Monday that universities will have to allow greater transparency in committees that decide on promotions of faculty members.

The panel, consisting of justices Ayala Procaccia, Isaac Amit and Court President Dorit Beinisch, said universities would have to present a summary of the information from meetings of the committees, a change from the old policy of complete secrecy. The names of the committee members will also have to be made available, although not the particular remarks they made.

The reasons for a decision to reject a candidate will have to be revealed, although not the identity of those who voiced them.

If a candidate is not satisfied with the document summarizing the proceedings, he or she can sue to obtain the full minutes.

“The stipulation for complete secrecy in the charters of the petitioners [the universities] does not give sufficient weight to the rights of the candidate to receive information,” Beinisch wrote, adding that the Freedom of Information Act required greater  transparency in the universities’ actions.

However, the ruling also states that “the petitioners should not be obligated to consider individually revealing the minutes of the discussion about a faculty member who has been rejected, whenever such a revelation is requested.”

The ruling ends a long legal battle started over Bar-Ilan University’s refusal to promote two junior faculty members, Dr. Tzemah Keisar and Dr. Haim Stern, to its senior faculty. After the two were no longer employed at Bar-Ilan, they took the matter to the Tel Aviv District Labor Court, claiming age-based discrimination.

Bar-Ilan initially revealed only a summary of the deliberations, but after the Labor Court required the full minutes, it turned out that the applicants’ ages had been discussed.

The current ruling comes after Israel’s six universities ‏(excluding the Weizmann Institute of Science‏) appealed the Labor Court’s precedent-setting decision.

The respondents were joined by the Coordinating Forum of Junior Faculty, an organization representing junior faculty at Israel’s universities.

Bar-Ilan University said it would study the ruling as would the other universities, and act accordingly.

The coordinating forum welcomed the decision. The forum’s director general, Dr. Daniel Mishori, said in the past other lecturers may have been harmed by the confidential nature of the deliberations over their promotions, but “from now on these proceedings are assured greater transparency.”

The chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Organizations of Senior Faculty, Prof. Nir Shaviv, said the ruling would impair academic standards, and dilute the deliberations, because the requirement to release the minutes in court “will mean some of the discussions will become verbal.”

He said that in the United States people write recommendations that are neither here nor there in content, because they are afraid of being taken to court, and the real gist of the recommendation is discussed over the phone.

Ben-Gurion University Rector Tzvi Cohen echoed Shaviv’s sentiments.

However, the Hebrew University said the justices had shown great understanding for the importance of keeping the academic processes confidential. Rachel Benari, the attorney representing the universities together with Dafna Shmuelevich said that while Beinisch had not reversed the decision of the National Labor Court allowing the minutes of the deliberations to be revealed in court, it did not allow the full minutes to be revealed without a court order, but rather only a summary.

Avner Pinchuk of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel called the ruling “an important contribution to the transparency and fairness in relations between the state and its citizens and in labor relations.”