The Politics and Government department at Ben Gurion University is under threat again – for background see an earlier post on this site. Haaretz has an editorial about it here; and a longer version of the story has been posted at crit-geog-forum.
There was a report on the department last year, which told the department to hire new staff to better ‘balance’ it. It was cloaked as more ‘positivist’ scholars, rather than ‘critical theory’, but there was a more political agenda – this is a department known for its critical voice on Israeli policies at home and abroad. Appointments were made, and in July the external evaluators congratulated the department on their appointments:
The Sub-Committee for Quality Assessment of the CHE has asked us to look at the CVs of the new recruitments at Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government. We congratulate the department on successfully recruiting three new faculty members in the areas of comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory, and for its plans for a fourth recruitment next year. This has been recommended in the report of our Committee. In order to fulfill its deficits in mainstream political science, the department must ensure that these young scholars are given the time, resources, and mentoring to publish in top ranked international refereed journals and university presses, as well as to carry out the department’s commitment to building a pluralistic curriculum. In addition, we believe that the department should increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments, as recommended by our committee.
Prof. Ellen Immergut
Prof. Thomas Risse
But this positive evaluation of the direction they were going, albeit with stress on future things to do, was not enough:
Sept 5, 2012
Recommendation of the Sub-Committee for Quality Control with Regard to the Implementation of the Report of the International Evaluation Committee in the Dept. of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University
The Sub-Committee for Quality Control hereby recommends to the Council of Higher Education to accept the following decision with regard to the study program of Political Science at Ben-Gurion University:
1. The Council of Higher Education commends Ben Gurion University on the granting of new tenured positions to the Department of Politics and Government, aimed at recruiting faculty from within the core of the field of Political Science (qualitative methodological approaches, political theory and comparative politics), as was required by the International Evaluation Committee.
2. The Council takes note of the reservations expressed by members of the International Evaluation Committee with regard to the implementation of recommendations made by the committee regarding the broadening of methodologies and theoretical approaches being taught in the Department of Politics and Government.
3. In light of these reservations, the Council expresses its dissatisfaction in light of the fact that the Department of Politics and Government did to exploit this opportunity to recruit new faculty members in order to expand upon the methodological approaches employed by faculty in the department in a way that would reflect the pluralism of the discipline, as recommended by the International Evaluation Committee. Specifically, this relates to the absence of the positivist approach in Political Science among faculty of the department. The recruitment of faculty from the subfield of qualitative research (critical theory), which is already over-represented in the department, does not follow the recommendations made by the International Evaluation Committee.
4. The Council of Higher Education has decided to establish a sub-committee that will monitor and investigate the changes that have been undertaken in the Department of Politics and Government, following the report of the International Evaluation Committee, particularly with regard to the weight given in courses taught in the department to methodology and theories of the central streams of political science. This sub-committee will be asked to submit a report to the Council of Higher Education no later December 2012.
5. In the current situation, we will not allow registration of new students to the Department of Politics and Government for the 2013-14 academic year. The Department will consider the possibility of registration of new students only after receiving the sub-committee’s report.
There is a clear mismatch here, and hard to see what, beyond a political agenda, is going on. The report is due in only three months time, but new students cannot be recruited for the 2013-14 year in the meantime. Academic timescales mean that students will unlikely wait until then, so the department is going to fail to recruit for the new academic year, probably leading to its closure. Where this leaves existing staff, including those recruited specifically to ‘balance’ things, is unclear.
This is further complicated by the attempts to boycott Israeli academia that some on the left have been advocating. This department is one of the reasons I’ve been against the boycott. It’s home to some very important critical scholars, including David Newman, Haim Yacobi and Neve Gordon. Oren Yiftachel is in the Geography department at this university, with strong links. I’ve spoken at the department twice – the only Israeli University I’ve spoken at to date. Boycotting, and therefore further isolating, critical voices seemed entirely counter-productive to me, though speaking in Israel has been a decision I have long agonised over. Both times I spoke I directly related my work to issues in the country and the region; and both times I made use of the visits to see parts of the West Bank or Beduin settlements in the Negev, some of which I could not have easily visited otherwise. These were facilitated by people at Ben Gurion University.
Do take the time to look at the links above, and consider writing to express concern about what is happening.
Closing a department like this seems unjust, but also counter-productive, given that it will give weight to criticisms of Israeli academic freedom. Somewhat ironically, David Newman, who founded the department and chaired it for many years, has been a strong anti-boycott voice.