The board of trustees of the University Center of Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel approved the appointment of a future president of the institution last week, on the expectation that it will get full status as an Israeli university this fall and become the first Israeli university in the West Bank. The school’s current temporary status as a “university institution,” conferred by the Israel Defense Forces, is set to expire July 15.
The potential upgrade to permanent full university status has sparked opposition by well over 1,000 faculty members from universities within Israel, who signed a petition that was submitted to the Education Ministry earlier this year, calling for a halt to what they termed “the attempt to enlist academia in service of the occupation.” Concern has also been expressed by the heads of Israel’s universities, as well as by the professional staff at the Education and Finance Ministries, over the prospect that the change would shift funding from universities in Israel proper.
Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson said that “the day after the [Ariel] university is designated as such, it will, with justification, request huge resources. All of us will pay a heavy price of mediocrity.” He also suggested that, if a new university must be created, maybe it should be somewhere other than in a settlement, “Nazareth or Dimona, or perhaps turn Sapir College in Sderot into a university.”
The change has the support of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, though Steinitz has not instructed his staff to find funding for the institution, should the upgrade take effect. But sources at the treasury and at the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, which oversees colleges and education, have also expressed concern that a diversion of funds to Ariel could undermine the entire Israeli higher education system.
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