[DEBATE] : On pluralism and academia
rangreen at sn.apc.org
Fri Jan 30 06:06:19 GMT 2009
This is the 'party line' from Tel Aviv university and is likely to be adopted by
others. The issue, of course, is not the opinions of the intended professor
but her practices. It's the difference between an Alan Dershowitz who voices
despicable opinions and a John Yoo who shapes despicable policies. The
former is legitimate, the latter is not. She cannot be compared to a lawyer
who defends a nasty client and uses whatever legal tricks are available to
exonerate him. Rather, she is like a Tom Hagen consigliere, who shapes
criminal actions before they take place and is thus an accomplice, even
without pulling any triggers
On pluralism and academia
By Hanoch Dagan
Haretz, 30 January 2009
The editorial in yesterday's Haaretz discusses the decision by Tel Aviv
University's law faculty to appoint Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch to teach a
course on international law. The editorial referred to my reaction to critics of
the decision as "misleading" and my reasoning as "demagogic."
The editorial is based on an article in which two university professors
expressed opposition to the appointment. The reporter who wrote the piece
used only a portion of the information I submitted to the newspaper, despite
my request that my comments be printed in full.
I made comments including: "Without commenting on the facts stated in
the article, I am not convinced that the faculty of law must examine and
appraise the legal, political and moral positions of its instructors as long as
these are within the bounds of the law and the accepted limits of a
democratic society. On the contrary, the faculty always makes an effort to
expose its students to a variety of opinions and viewpoints, and encourages
informed, academic discussion on controversial issues."
I also said that "the faculty higher-ups are not authorized and not fit to
ascertain the factual questions described in the article ... As long as these
questions have not been cleared up, as we know is being done at the
present time, there is no room for drawing conclusions."
In contrast to the author of the editorial, I am hesitant to engage in
scapegoating based on newspaper articles. Such field trials are not, after
all, the way of academia. On the contrary, academia that is worthy of its
name, and the law faculty in particular - which justifiably was labeled in the
editorial as "the spearhead of academic legal research in Israel" - always
strives to expose its students to the best teachers available while taking into
account their academic contributions, not their institutional affiliations or
The faculty has sometimes been attacked from the right because its halls
include a fair representation of opinions that differ from those of Sharvit-
Baruch (as opposed to what was suggested in the editorial). Our responses
to these attacks have always been, and will continue to be as long as I bear
responsibility, unchanged and determined: Pluralism is the air breathed by
academia; it is part of its raison d'etre and its important social function.
In the critical battle for the identity and image of Israeli society, we, the
members of the academy, have an important function in nurturing students
who think critically and independently. We are not deterred from dissent or
from voicing different opinions. The opposite is true. We encourage them.
Tel Aviv University has adopted a strikingly liberal policy in this area. It
allows the expression of various opinions in the classrooms, in public
protests on campus lawns, and in the plaza at the university's entrance.
Our policy has often attracted criticism. For some, we are too liberal. For
others, we are insufficiently liberal.
Either way, the university follows a clear policy, and it has no intention of
yielding to pressure from this or that camp. The editorial adds that due to
the law faculty's standing, it bears an academic and public responsibility to
hold an in-depth, fundamental discussion on what is permitted and what is
not in combat. Obviously, I agree with this. The faculty fills this role
adequately and will continue to do so while taking into consideration facts
that have been confirmed by the use of academic tools.
We have held, and will continue to hold, conferences on the subject. In
these discussions, we will ensure we hear a variety of opinions of those who
sit in ivory towers and those who face the difficult dilemmas in real time and
are ready to place their thought processes to a professional, academic test
It is specifically due to the faculty's public and academic responsibility that
we cannot adopt the unequivocal and hurried legal conclusions that
appeared in the Haaretz editorial. This is especially valid with regard to the
argument, which to my sorrow qualifies as demagoguery, that states that
these conclusions justify the cancellation of Sharvit-Baruch's appointment.
The writer is the dean of Tel Aviv University's law faculty.
Johannesburg, South Africa
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