A university beyond the Green Line: The Council for Higher Education
in Judea and Samaria took an historic decision Tuesday evening, voting 11:2 to make the Ariel University Center
of Samaria (AUCS) into a full-fledged university.
The decision could make international waves because of its location.
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Council chairman Amos Altschuler noted that the decision had been made against the recommendation of the planning and budget committee, and added that "explanations would be provided later."
Chairman Avigdor Lieberman
welcomed the decision and called it an important step toward strengthening Israeli academia as well as the settlements.
"This… will mark a strong contribution not only for students, who will enjoy another institution, but also for research," he said.
Lieberman chalked up the decision as a victory for Yisrael Beiteinu, which "voted in favor of establishing a university in Ariel as a condition for founding the government."
Ariel University Center in Samaria (Photo: AP)
Education Minister Gideon Saar welcomed the council's decision. The council "decided not to give into pressure and fear and made the right decision, professional and to the point," Saar said, adding that the decision served the interests of the entire higher education system in Israel.
However, elsewhere the responses were not so positive. "This is a political decision," a statement on behalf of the University Presidents Association said. "The prime minister needs to make a decision to prevent a catastrophe for Israel's higher education system."
Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie said, "This is a dark day for Israeli academia."
Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the planning and budget committee, said that the matter is now in the hands of the military commander.
A senior official in the academia said, "I'm having trouble imagining a situation where a general signs the authorization for the establishment of a university. It's bizarre, you won't find this in the toughest dictatorships."
Tuesday's vote followed a storm of protest in which heads of Israel's seven existing universities sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
calling on him to make a decision, and warning that the decision made by the Council would be a political one that would incur a heavy price.
The university heads wrote that they urged Netanyahu not to make a decision that would sacrifice the future of higher education. "As the head of state, only you can still stop the runaway train heading toward a foregone disaster, that will shred higher education in Israel."
Prof. Dan Meyerstein, president of the AUCS, said in response to the letter that he thought that the "university presidents were motivated by political considerations and personal interests. They are not objective and certainly there is no reason to consider their opinion on this issue."
National Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli
stormed out of the council meeting after a letter signed by most of the student associations in Israel was presented, supporting the recognition of the AUCS as a regular university. Shmuli said that presenting the letter was a political act to which he would not be a part.
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