Weizmann Institute head threatens to boycott Ariel school over ‘university’ label

By Stuart Winer | The Times of Israel | June 30, 2012 | The head of the Weizmann Institute of Science said he will boycott working with an academic institution….

By Stuart Winer | The Times of Israel | June 30, 2012 |

The head of the Weizmann Institute of Science said he will boycott working with an academic institution in the West Bank if it is granted full university status.

Ariel University Center of Samaria, located in the sprawling Ariel settlement, is due to receive the upgrade next month, a move which faces fierce opposition. The status of “university center” was a government compromise instituted five years ago, upgrading it from the College of Judea and Samaria.

Professor Daniel Zajfman declared at a gathering of university heads that he would cancel any academic or professional cooperation with the school, Maariv reported Wednesday.

“We will cut all ties if it is declared a university,” Zajfman said.

The Council for Higher Education is expected to decide in the next two weeks whether or not to approve the campus’s university status, completing a process that began in 2005.

University heads have opposed the move to grant it full status since doing so would divert funds from their institutions to Ariel. Other academics have also raised concerns over the fact that the school is tied to the Israel Defense Forces. Earlier this year, over 1,000 university faculty members signed a letter against upgrading its status.

Zajfman insisted that his objection is not political.

“There is no place for political debate here,” he said. “Is there a need for another university in Israel? That question has not been discussed in any forum. It will be interesting to see if adding a university will be met with an increased budget for higher education.”

Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson expressed his concerns that giving the settlement-based institute university status could have far-reaching consequences in the international community.

“It is a strategic threat to the State,” Ben-Sasson said. “We are putting the next Nobel Prize in danger.”

The Head of the Council for Higher Education, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, also opposed giving the Ariel college university status, as do most of the council members, Maariv reported.

However, there is strong political pressure to recognize the campus as a university. Members of the Yisrael Beytenu Party have threatened to leave the coalition if the upgrade does not go through, claiming it was part of a coalition deal signed when the government was first formed in 2009.

The school, which has some 13,000 students enrolled, has been battling for seven years to achieve university status, citing advances in its research faculties, which work with other institutes both in Israel and abroad.

In a statement to Maariv, the university said that a report commissioned by the Council for Higher Education itself found that the campus has reached and even surpassed all the requirements it needs to become a university.

“We hope the decisions that will be taken will be based on academic criteria alone and not on any external considerations,” the statement said.