University Heads Slam Education Ministry Code of Ethics

University of Haifa. (Zvi Roger)

The heads of universities in Israel on Motzoei Shabbos issued a statement condemning a new code of ethics promulgated by Education Minister Naftali Bennett against university lecturers expressing political opinions during classes. The university heads wrote in a statement that “the code of ethics removes from institutions the freedom to set their own criteria and standards of behavior of their staff, thus severely impinging on the concept of academic freedom.

On Friday, Yediot Acharonot revealed that Bennett had asked Professor Asa Kasher, a senior Israeli academician, to draft a code of ethics that professors and lecturers needed to abide by. Among the criteria is a full allowance for freedom of expression, but a ban on “advancement political agendas. Higher education institutions are not party conventions, and students should not have to fear expressing their political opinions over concerns that their grades will be affected, or that they will be asked to boycott the institutions they are studying at” as part of a political agenda. “This tenet is not aimed at any specific political opinion or faction, and includes opinions on the right and the left. Thus there is no reason for anyone to oppose it,” Bennett said at a meeting with the heads of universities Thursday.

But the university heads said that despite the even-handedness of the ban on political activity, they still opposed the code. “While the headline of the code discusses the appropriateness of politics on campus, a deeper study of the code shows a long list of rules discussing academic research and methods of delivering lectures. Thus the code represents an effort by the authorities to dictate academic activities” at universities, the heads of the schools said. “We demand the right to express our opinion at a meeting of the Council for Higher Education, where the code will be discussed in depth.”

According to the code, professors who express a political opinion in class will be required to appear before a supervisory committee. If the committee determines that he acted improperly, the professor’s file will include a note that he or she violated the code of ethics. Professors who continue to violate the code will find themselves facing further sanctions, so far undefined.

MK Tzippy Livni (Zionist Camp) said that the code “was neither ethical or ‘kosher,’” a play on the name of its author. “This is another attempt by the government to silence its critics and to stamp out freedom of thought, this time in the universities. This is the kind of thing backwards countries do, it is not appropriate for Israel.” In response, Bennett said that it was clear that Livni did not even read the document before criticizing it.

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