Tel Aviv Students Afraid to Challenge Leftist Professors

In faculty memo, TAU prof. says some students fear penalty for expressing contrary viewpoints in class.

Tel Aviv University students are hesitant to express their political views in class, lest lecturers perceived to have left-wing political views penalize them with lower grades, the head of TAU's Department of Curriculum and Instruction wrote in an internal memorandum last month. Prof. Nira Hativa's comment in the faculty memo ignited controversy among professors, with some declaring that her sentiments should not be made public.

Hativa wrote: "There are no small number of students of lecturers with left-wing views who complain bitterly that they are extremely offended by the presentation of materials that oppose their views, but are fearful of expressing contrary viewpoints in class, lest it harm their grades."

In response to the uproar, Hativa, who is currently abroad, wrote Haaretz this weekend that "the things I wrote in the context of an internal disagreement are based on intuition and my personal impressions."

The chair of the university's students' union, Shahar Botzer, said his organization receives a number of complaints each year from students dissatisfied with what they view as lecturers' biased portrayal of material in favor of left-wing positions. He said that such complaints are the exception, however, rather than the rule.

"If lecturers express their views in class in a way that makes it illegitimate to express contrary views - that is inappropriate and unacceptable to us," Botzer said. "This university is founded on pluralism and on the ability to express a variety of opinions."

Hativa's statements were prompted by a story in the Haaretz English Edition on rightist activists monitoring lecturers who are considered to have leftist views, as well as an article in Maariv on what it described as the right-wing views of Daniel Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

"At the end of each semester, I read comments from several hundred students on the teaching they receive," Hativa wrote on October 23. "I have come across many complaints from students about a small number of lecturers in various fields, who express radical left-wing opinions in their classes - that they are lashing out at the State of Israel, the army, the Zionist movement and worse."

TAU said in response that "informal discussions are held frequently on controversial issues, and people feel 'at home' in expressing opinions based on their understanding and intuition. The university is an institution where pluralism is a guiding principle."