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General Articles
First of all, academic integrity


http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/first-of-all-academic-integrity-1.298881

      * Published 01:41 29.06.10
  
First of all, academic integrity
Circles in the extreme right have been trying for a long time to harm the academic freedom of faculty members in institutions of higher education in Israel. Now it is clear that that academic freedom faces a threat from the extreme left as well.
By Eppie Ya'ar

Several prominent Israeli scholars are absent from the required reading of a sociology course at Tel Aviv University, while the list does include an article by Azmi Bishara (above).
Photo by: Reuters

Circles in the extreme right have been trying for a long time to harm the academic freedom of faculty members in institutions of higher education in Israel. Now it is clear that that academic freedom faces a threat from the extreme left as well.


Already about 70 years ago the American Association of University Professors issued a statement of principles that said, in part: "Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning...." Yet it also noted the "special obligations" dictated by the "special position in the community" of college and university teachers and states that they must respect their colleagues' freedom of inquiry and to recognize their academic contribution even if it leads to different conclusions than their own. As teachers they should promote freedom of learning, educate their students according to high ethical norms and strive to promote academic integrity.

Since within the field of social sciences there are different theoretical paradigms, each of which attempts to describe and analyze social reality in accordance with its own fundamental assumptions, it is of particular importance that faculty members in these subjects adopt these principles. They must ensure that their students are aware that there are various approaches and interpretations of social reality, without abusing their monopoly on passing on information in the classroom.

These norms are apparently not acceptable to some of my colleagues in the social sciences. I have chosen as a test case "Introduction to Israeli Society," the only compulsory course on this subject for undergraduates in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Tel Aviv University and one that I am familiar with as a basis for instruction and research.

The description of the goals of the course states: "We shall present a sociological position that seeks to question 1. the existence of an a priori structure called 'Israeli society' and 2. the existence of a canonic narrative that is accepted by all parts of the society in Israel." The course bibliography is in keeping with the spirit of these goals. Thus, for example, several very important scholars are absent from the required reading list, such as Prof. Shmuel Eisenstadt, a very prominent sociologist whose work on Israeli society is essential to every student and scholar of the subject, as well as other respected sociologists such as professors Moshe Lissak, Yohanan Peres and Eliezer Ben-Rafael, whose contributions to the study of Israeli society have earned recognition in the Israeli and international sociological communities. On the other hand, the reading list does include, for example, an article by Azmi Bishara and the film, "Conversations with Azmi Bishara."

Of course a teacher is permitted to give his students the materials that he believes must be studied. But what about the duty to respect the opinions of one's colleagues and to recognize their academic contributions, even if they lead to conclusions different from one's own? And what about the duty to encourage freedom of learning? Can these goals be attained through censorship?

This is an example of the improper use of authority in order to promote one-dimensional thinking, without giving the students the possibility of choosing among various approaches in an effort to reach the truth. The stronger this tendency becomes, the more the level of scholarship in the departments in which exists will drop, and they will lose the trust of the academic community and the public as a whole.

How ironic that the teachers representing this tendency, who are called "critical," are unwilling to accept critical thinking when it is directed toward them.

 

The writer is professor emeritus of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Tel Aviv University.

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