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Tel Aviv University
Responses to the IAM letter to the Governors of Tel Aviv University

Israel Academia Monitor received comments to ourletter to TAU Governors.Those comments follow our responses below.


Dear Professor Israel Bartal,

Thank you for your letter in response to our post about some faculty at TelAviv University.

You are right that academics have the right to write, research, learn anddowhatever they want and, furthermore, they can do it under the protection ofthe authorities of the universities.

But we think you misunderstood our statement.

IAM does not dispute that scholars have a right to express their opinion however vexing it may be to others, and that this is their right ascitizens as well as academics. Indeed, there are literally hundred ofscholars who have done so. We fully agree that it is to the credit ofIsraeli democracy that they can enjoy their freedoms withoutharassment and without the fear of losing their jobs.

However, we clearly pointed out that the mentioned faculty do more thanexpress their opinion in their free time. They were appointed to teach andresearch in particular fields but, upon receiving tenure, moved on toresearching aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it fitstheir political agenda.

Surely, you would agree that a university cannot allow their faculty toresearch whatever they want to, especially when the subject is not evenremotely related to the specialization for which they were hired. We wantto remind you that the report of the Council of Higher Education (CHE)regarding the Department of Politics and Government at Ben GurionUniversity, considered it problematic that many on the staff did notresearch on topics that they taught. In other words, the CHE concluded thatacademic freedoms have to be limited to the domain of specialization, evenif broadly defined.

There is a reason for requiring faculty to research within the broadconfines of their field of expertise. First, it has been determined thatclassroom instruction is greatly enhanced by relevant research experienceof the teaching staff. Only non-research colleges do not require their lecturers to research and publish, effectivelyseveringthe link between teaching and research. Second, by allowing facultyfreedomof research well outside their discipline, the university (and society) isrobbedof research on topics that are deemed important and for which positionswerecreated in the first place. Third, permissive practices deprive studentsof a meaningful educational experience that they have the right to expectin a research university as opposed to a non-research college.

To conclude, it would seem to us that you confuse political freedom ofacademics to express and write what they want with the academicresponsibility to teach and research within the confines of theirexpertise. Surely, you would not suggest that a scholar who was hired toteach and research, say, neurobiology, would switch to exploring thebotanical structure of plants. If so, why would you support the right ofsomeone appointed to teach sociology of organizations to make a career out"proving" that Mizrahim are Arab Jews and victims of Zionism to boot?



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: Israel Bartal "israelb@savion.huji.ac.il"

: 07 2012 17:21

: IAM e-mail

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Israel Bartal

Department of Jewish History

Faculty of Humanities

Hebrew University

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Dear Professor Leshem,

We have received comments on our post about Tel Aviv professors and are trying to respond.
You are right !We agree with you that there is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. As a matter of fact, we are proud that Israel is a democratic society in which citizens and academics alike can criticize the state.
But your comment about us "totally losing it" seems based on a misunderstanding of our post. Our point was that this particular faculty stopped doing research in their own field and turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it fit their political agenda. As we pointed out in a reply to Professor Israel Bar-Tal, the Council for Higher Education condemned such practices with regard to theDepartment of Government at Ben Gurion University.

Let usexplainthe difference between free speech and abuse of academic responsibility.
Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi from your own Department of Psychology at Haifa University. In the late 1980s, Beit-Hallahmi, a member of Matzpen, took a Sabbatical leave to do research, not in psychology, but on Israel's military connections with right wing states, including the then apartheid regime of South Africa. The fruit of his Sabbatical labor wasThe Secret Connection: Whom Israel Arms and Why, published in 1988. As you should know, the universities cover the Sabbatical leave.

There are many more instances where professors, at least temporality, turned to topics that had nothing to do with their expertise but everything to do with their political activism. For instance, Professor Galia Golan, then an expert on the Soviet Union at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, "remade" herself into an authority on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic that conviently matched her position as a spokesperson for Peace Now.
We hope that you would agree with our distinction between academic freedom of expression and abuse of such freedomsas described in our original post.The practices ofdramatic research "reorientation"by faculty shows contempt for liberal arts students (humanities and social sciences) who are expected toaccept standards that would have never been tolerated in sciences and engineering.
Israeli universities which are globally competitive in sciences and engineering, are badly lagging in international rankings in social sciences.Cutting edge topics, say, the sociology of water or the sociology of the high-techsector are not covered because many of the facultyareusing their academic positions to do work that enhances their political agenda.



-------- Original Message --------

Subject: RE: To the Governors of Tel Aviv University
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2012 12:42:11 +0300
From: micah leshem "micah.leshem@psy.haifa.ac.il"
To: "'IAM e-mail'"
Reply-To:


Nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. You've totally lost it.

Micah





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