The CHE committee overrules the recommendations of its evaluation board

Despite the fact that the original recommendations of the international evaluation committee were inherently problematic, the university management, along with the Department of Politics and Government, took significant steps towards their implementation. Ultimately, both Prof. Thomas Risse and Prof. Ellen Immergut, who were members of the original evaluation committee and were later appointed as observers to the implementation process, applauded the process and the subsequent changes made by the department. Nonetheless, and despite this, the Malag committee decided to go forward with its initial recommendation to close the department. The letters from the international experts who oversaw the evaluation process demonstrate that the committee’s decision is motivated by a political agenda and not academic considerations.

Following the recommendations of the international evaluation committee, the university management added four tenure track lines to the Department of Politics and Government, to be distributed over a four-year period. Accordingly, the department hired two new faculty members, one in political theory and one in comparative politics (with a specialization in Europe) and who specializes in quantitative methods. In 2014, an additional new faculty member will be joining the department who specializes in comparative politics. In addition, the department took steps to encourage the publication-output of its faculty members. Moreover, as members of the evaluation committee had already learned during their visit with the department, two introductory courses that focus on the core of the political science discipline were added to the curriculum, the methodology courses were strengthened, and the second and third year curriculum was improved. The response of Professors Risse and Immergut to these steps was positive. They congratulated the university and the department. In the opening lines to their letter they wrote the following:

“… we sincerely appreciate the action plan submitted by the Rector and President on behalf of Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government. If this action plan is implemented, the Department of Politics and Government will have followed the main recommendations of the CHE Evaluation Committee of September 2011…”

They continue:

“We also appreciate the changes in the undergraduate core curriculum. It seems that all subfields of political science are now taught as core classes in the BA program.”

They then note:

“The Department is also implementing our recommendation concerning internships as a required part of the curriculum.”

At the same time, they say that it will be appropriate within the curriculum of these courses to emphasize the practical-political dimensions.

In the field of research, they applaud the achievements of the members of the department in terms of research grants:

“With regard to research, the Department’s accomplishment in the area of research grants is nothing less than impressive in recent years.”

And continue:

“We appreciate these efforts and only wish that this information had been made available to the CHE Evaluation Committee during the site visit.”

It must be noted that this information was indeed presented to the members of the committee and made available for their inspection during their site visit by the head of the department.

In addition to these positive comments, Risse and Immergut did note that the methodological courses should be strengthened and they asked for certain points of clarification: information pertaining to the research fields of the new faculty; clarification regarding the lack of quantitative methods courses; an updated list of faculty publications and the syllabi of introductory courses, for the purpose of making sure that the department is extending efforts:

“…to ensure that the curriculum, particularly the syllabi of the introductory courses, expresses a broad view of the field of political science, and how it plans to expose students to a variety of different perspectives.”

(It is important to note that all the course syllabi were available to the committee during their on site visit).

In a letter dated 22/2/2012, the Department and the University presented Risse and Immergut with the information they requested. To this, they replied:

“As we already stated in our earlier comments on the Action Plan submitted by the Rector and President of Ben Gurion University on behalf of the Department of Politics and Government, we thoroughly appreciate the efforts to rectify the situation. Indeed, if the Action Plan and the measures detailed in the letter of February 22, 2012, are implemented, BGU’s Department of Politics and Government will have followed the main recommendations of the CHE Evaluation Committee Report of September 2011. As a result, the option of closing the department which the Committee had mentioned as a last resort, in the absence of changes, should be off the table in our view.”

It should also be noted that despite this unequivocal statement at the end of their letter they immediately added the following sentence:

“However, we cannot change the Committee report at this point.”

Concerning the diversity of research approaches to which the students are exposed, the two professors added:

“We thank the Department for submitting the syllabi for the introductory courses to us. They do indeed indicate a broad view of the field of political science. We suggest, however, to expose students to modern political theory, too, in the respective class and, maybe, to update the Introduction to International Relations curriculum a bit. But this is, of course, up to the instructors to decide.”

This letter makes it very clear that as opposed to the criticisms waged against the department, the international evaluators acknowledged the fact that the faculty of the department succeed in exposing the students to a wide spectrum of theories and research-approaches. The comment regarding modern political theory is less clear given the fact that the department offers an introductory course in 20th century political theory.

Risse and Immergut applauded the members of the department upon successfully winning competitive research grants and continued to applaud those members of the department who were accepted as visiting scholars in such prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Princeton (additional evidence to the high research standard of the department). They did however still underscore the importance of improving on the publication-output of members of the department, particularly in highly ranked international political science journals.

In an email sent to Ms. Hilah Gadot, administrator of the Rector’s office in Ben Gurion University on 22/5/12, Ms. Michal Noyman from the CHE wrote that “the two evaluators had no further comments to the action plan submitted to them at the beginning of April.” Nonetheless, after its meeting in June 2012, the sub-committee for quality control, in an unprecedented act that exceeded the committee’s mandate, demanded the cvs of the new faculty appointees. From Risse and Immergut’s letter, it is apparent that the sub-committee asked them to review the cvs (despite the fact that they themselves did not ask to do this). Here is their full response as it was sent to the sub committee:

“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.”

Despite the positive evaluations expressed by both Prof. Risse and Prof. Immergut who were appointed by the CHE to oversee the implementation process, the sub-committee for quality assurance in its latest meeting on 4/9/2012 decided to establish yet another overseeing committee to evaluate the department. Moreover, the sub-committee recommended that the department be prevented from registering new students for the 2013-14 academic year until receiving the report of this new monitoring committee. The course of events leaves little room for doubt that the purpose of this additional committee called for by the CHE is not to evaluate the quality of teaching in the department or to point out academic weaknesses, but rather to call for the closing of the Department of Politics and Government because of the political opinions and research approaches of its faculty members. The outrageous decision of the sub committee to block registration of students for the academic year of 2013-2014, in blatant disregard of the conclusions of the international evaluation committee appointed by the CHE itself, proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that beneath the notion of “quality assessment” is but a thin veil that barely manages to hide the fact that a McCarthyite witch hunt is taking place, whose purpose is to eliminate any vestiges of free speech.




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