The Council for Higher Education gave the controversial political science department at Ben-Gurion University a three-week deadline on Tuesday, by which the department must commit to remedying the problems pointed out by an international committee.
The council, which had initially planned to shut the department down, decided to grant the university a temporary reprieve and allow it to formulate a plan for reform. Before the reprieve was granted, the council threatened to prevent potential students from applying to political science studies for the coming academic year.
The issue arose last year when an international committee of experts, appointed by the Council of Higher Education to evaluate political science departments in Israel's universities, issued a report harshly criticizing the Ben-Gurion department for a series of failures. The committee voiced concern that the "study of politics as a scientific discipline may be impeded by such strong emphasis on political activism" at the department, and recommended "major changes," such as diversifying the faculty's views and approaches and altering key programs.
The staff and the department's curriculum were criticized by Israeli officials as being radically left-wing and anti-Israel, but the committee did not recommend shutting the department down or blocking registration. Last month, however, the subcommittee of the Council of Higher Education in Israel, in charge of approving and accrediting universities, announced that it had decided to shut down the department on the basis of the international committee's report. "The current situation will not allow for the registration of students in the new class for the 2012-2013 school year," it said.
The founder of Ben-Gurion University's Politics and Government Department, Professor David Newman, has called for international pressure and other measures to prevent the department from being shut down by the council. Students protested against the closure of the department on the university's campus on Tuesday.
The decision to give the university a chance to present a plan to reform the department was made by the council at a meeting held on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Thomas Risa, chairman of the international committee appointed by the council, addressed those present and listed the issues the university must rectify. After Risa spoke, university officials presented their side of the conflict, but the international subcommittee insisted the university be given three weeks to formulate a plan to implement the changes mentioned by Risa.
The list of items that require modification according to the subcommittee includes issues relating to staff profiles, the department's curriculum and a particular research project being undertaken by members of the department's staff. Staff members who recently joined the department were said to have distanced it from the principle of a pluralistic approach to government and politics.
A statement by university officials said "The university presented the Council of Higher Education's subcommittee with information that negates its criticism of the department."