Assessment of Academic Excellence
A) When counting the publication of referred journals, the committee erred by no less than 50%. This, it seems, is due to the fact that they counted only articles that were published in political science and international relations journals, while the department was established as an interdisciplinary department (see below).
Consequently, the committee members disregarded articles written by David Newman and Haim Yacobi which appeared in the leading journals in human geography, articles written by Lynn Schler that appeared in the top journals of African History, and the articles published by Dani Filc in health policy journals.
Moreover, when comparing the committee’s report of BGU to the one they wrote about the department of Political Science in Tel-Aviv University, it becomes obvious that the bias is not only disciplinary. The Department of Political Science at TAU has double the faculty members of its BGU counterpart, and yet according to the evaluating committee published the same amount of articles as the BGU department (and this not counting the ones that BGU published in journals outside the discipline). The TAU department is praised in the report and BGU department ends up being harshly reprimanded.
B) In the first draft, the report stated that members of the faculty did not publish books in leading academic publishers. After we approached the committee members (who already had at their disposal all the CV’s of the 9 faculty members), noting that in the past three years (since 2008) faculty members published six books, of which three appeared in the top 10 academic presses (California University Press, Cornell University Press, Columbia University Press), two more books were published by Routledge (ranked in the top 15), and the sixth book published by the top press in France, the Committee changed the report, stating that “few books were published by leading publishers.”
This description is particularly disconcerting when compared with the report that committee members wrote about the Department for Political Science at TAU. This faculty, made up of 18 members were praised for their research output. The committee noted that: “It should be mentioned however that of the twenty books published by ‘leading international publishers,’ only two were published after 2004.” It is surprising that while Tel Aviv University was praised, Ben-Gurion University was harshly critiqued for its inadequate level of research output. This inconsistency raises serious questions regarding the objectivity of the reports.
C) Academic excellence is also determined according to the ability of faculty to receive competitive research grants. In the past three years 5 out of the 9 faculty members have received such grants: One faculty member was awarded a FP7, two members GIF (German Israel Foundation), another faculty member a GIF and FP7 and fifth member an ISF (Israel Science Foundation). It is puzzling that the committee chose not to mention this at all. The committee dealt only in a general manner with the total amount that the department raised in research grants over the last three years from competitive foundations, without really praising it. This despite the fact that the average grant per faculty member was over $100,000, which is relatively high in the discipline. We are unaware of any department in Israel that has such an average.
A) The report criticizes the department’s academic curriculum, claiming that it does not include enough of the discipline’s core courses. Yet the study program does not differ greatly from the conventional programs in the other universities in the country. Indeed, it should be noted that the department offers seven core compulsory introductory courses: Introduction to Politics and Government; Introduction to Political Thought I and II; Introduction to International Relations; Introduction to the Israeli Political System; Political History, and Introduction to Comparative Politics.
In addition, the committee further claims that in conversation with department alumni:
Those who were doing advance studies (elsewhere) definitely felt that they were up to the same level as graduate students from other universities.
This raises an important question: If, as the committee states elsewhere, that “on paper” there isn’t a clear difference between the curriculum of the Department at Ben-Gurion University and the curriculums of departments in other universities, and if Ben-Gurion BA alumni claim that they themselves feel that they fit well in advanced degrees in other universities, why did the committee criticize so harshly the department’s curriculum?
B) The report emphasises the importance of internship courses, regretting that the department offers a single course that includes internships. “Special courses that truly emphasise social involvement do not really exist,” they write. This claim is both false and misleading. The fallacy stems from another statement in which the committee claims the department generally does not offer courses that include an internship.
The committee was aware, however, that for the past several years the department has been offering two internship courses, and were told that in the 2011-2012 academic year a third internship would be taught (two out of the three have recently received funding from the Council for Higher Education as practical internship courses). Note that the committee members were given the 2011-2012 curriculum, and were therefore aware of the exact number of specialised courses offered by the department.
C) In its report dealing with the department of Political Science at TAU, the committee congratulates the department for its plan to open an MA program in English, but the English program in the Department of Politics and Government at BGU, which has been running for two years, is not even mentioned, needless to say praised.
This example is brought to show that the inconsistency extends not only to what the committee wrote about the department, but also to what it did not write.
D) The committee ignored the fact that the Council for Higher Education approved the establishment of the department as an inter-disciplinary department, as was noted by Prof. Avner De Shalit, the current dean of social science at Hebrew University and the chair of the first internal evaluation committee set up by the Council of Higher Education several years ago.
E) The committee’s recommendation to close the department if certain changes are not made, is, we think, unprecedented in the history of evaluation committees and does not even follow its own (inaccurate) assessment.
F) Finally the report was leaked to the media a week before it was discussed at the Council for Higher Education, and the witch-hunt atmosphere present in the media, heightened the sense that in this case the professional assessment of CHE was not objective or carried out in accordance with regular procedure.