Spring 2003


 

  Presidential Column - Dealing with Economic Reform

 

Prof. Yehuda Hayuth
President, University of Haifa

 

The government’s economic reform program, which has passed its first reading in the Knesset and has been the cause, or excuse, of a nationwide strike of public service employees and certain other sectors, has not left the country’s  seven universities unscathed.  I’ll not go into the merits and demerits of the government’s plan; but there is no denying that Israel ’s economy, like the economies of other Western states around the globe, is in crisis.  And in Israel’s case, the situation is exacerbated by its security and political situation, which has ruined tourism, persuaded investors to stay away, and, so far as higher education is concerned, affected research relationships.

      In the past two years, the government, which finances about half of the universities’ budgets, has deducted some $150 million from its allocations to this item.  This translates into a reduction of 10%-15% in most budgets, not least ours.  If that is not bad enough, the government’s proposed emergency budget now on the agenda calls for still further cuts, totaling $30 million.

      In my capacity as chairman of Vera, the Council of University Presidents, I have been trying as hard as I can to minimize this cutback.  Nonetheless, I am mindful of the general economic situation and know that it is unrealistic to think that it won’t reflect severely on the universities.

      The University of Haifa is traditionally known as an institution that deals strictly with expenses.  Our budget handling is centralized, allowing us to keep a better eye on accounts.  As a result, our operating budget is in relatively better shape than that of the other universities.  Again, however, the continuing stream of heavy cuts does have its toll.

      The University is already in the midst of a three-year budget-cut scheme that will, on the one hand, lead to more efficient running; on the other hand, it will also reduce the level of services provided to both students and researchers.  We have been forced to eliminate positions on both the academic and the administrative level.  Collective agreements with the unions, however, put the younger staff at a disadvantage when it comes to letting staff go—and the implications of this for the long term are unkind.  The University has been forced to tighten up on its priorities in regard to both academic and physical development.  On the surface, such a step seems positive.  A deeper look shows that it means the elimination and non-implementation of many viable programs.

      Although this budget situation will compel the University to finance new development at the expense of existing activities, we feel strongly on the issue of the continued development of new academic programs.  We cannot and will not surrender to financial pressure, to take a break as it were for a few years.  Such a hiatus can only have adverse consequences for the future status of the University. 

      Thus we are proceeding with plans to redirect our emphasis to the area of welfare and health studies and evolutionary biology.  The University’s immediate past objectives emphasized computers and high tech, areas of research and study that were boosted by and culminated in the move to our campus of the IBM Haifa research center, that corporation’s largest laboratory outside the United States .  Now the focus will be on new technologies in such areas as communication disorders, physiotherapy, hearing, health management, and so on, as well as evolutionary biology, biology and the environment, and brain and behavior.

      Before ending this column, I would like briefly to digress somewhat although the subject to be addressed has implications for our budget and development.  On a fundraising trip to the United States during Passover, I was dismayed at the attempts on campuses there to severe connections with Israel , whether at the level of joint research and academic exchange programs or the portfolio divestment of Israeli company stock.  I had, of course, read about such attempts prior to the trip, but now had the opportunity to talk with university scholars and administrators about their effect. 

The claim was posited by some that all this really has nothing to do with Israel per se but is a reflection of the battle between the have’s and have not’s, which has been enjoined by the U.S. university community.  I might have been tempted to give this claim some credence, were it not for the fact that certain radical Israeli academics have combined with American Arab groups to push, and push hard, for this disconnection.

      Individual voices have spoken up against such attempts.  But it was with consternation that I learned that in the main the major Jewish organizations have not taken any forceful stand.  Worse yet, Jewish faculty on U.S. campuses apparently seem afraid to stick out their necks to condemn what some brave souls have defined as anti-Semitism, or its current manifestation anti-Zionism. 

      On the narrow level of self-interest, our research relationships and fundraising efforts are duly impacted by these venomous actions and immobility in their face.  On a broader level, world Jewry must stand guard and even take the offensive against such noxious activity.  I write these words on Israel ’s Remembrance Day for her fallen, which comes exactly a week after Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day. 

   

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