Jewish Journal


April 5, 2001

Israel’s Academic Probation Ends


California State University will reinstate its overseas study program in Israel after abruptly canceling the program last October.

"Barring a major catastrophe, we are initiating a new study program at the University of Haifa, starting this fall," Dr. David Spence, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the 23-campus Cal State system, told The Jewish Journal.

Still in question is whether Cal State, as it has done in past years, will give financial and academic support to students opting for study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University. Cal State professors and Jewish community representatives, who have been dealing with the CSU administration, said they were given to understand that students would be able to enroll at any of the three Israeli universities.

On the other hand, Spence said a decision on whether to reinstate the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv programs would be made within the next three weeks. He said that in light of the present situation in Israel, Haifa was considered the safest city in the country but that in the future the program might be rotated among the three universities.

Cal State came under considerable internal and external criticism last October when it abruptly notified its 11 students enrolled at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University that the program had been terminated and urged them to come home.

The students had already finished an intensive summer Hebrew language program and were enrolled in courses, and the sudden decision left them without previously promised financial support for tuition, health insurance and dormitory costs. Also put into question was whether course credits earned at Hebrew University would be automatically accepted by their home campuses.

Despite this pressure, only one student last fall opted to return home.

At that time, Cal State officials said their only concern was the safety of their students. These officials declined to follow the example of other American universities, which either accepted students' waivers that absolved their home campuses from responsibility or arranged transfers to the supposedly safer Tel Aviv University.

Nor were administrators swayed by the fact that much larger student contingents from Berkeley, UCLA, and other UC campuses were allowed to continue their studies in Israel without interruption.

But now, after three months of intensive high-level discussion at Cal State headquarters in Long Beach, "we have made the students whole," Spence said.

Students who stayed in Israel have been reimbursed for tuition, health insurance, housing and out-of-pocket expenses, and their course credits have been fully accepted by their home campuses, according to Spence and other officials on all sides in the dispute.

In addition, Cal State will appoint a faculty member as a full-time resident director in Israel, to oversee the program. This had been the practice in earlier years, but at the time the program was canceled, only a part-time Israeli assistant was in charge.

Critics believe that had a Cal State professor been on hand last fall, the crisis would have been handled more skillfully.

For instance, when the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973, education professor Norma Tarrow was the resident director of the Cal State contingent at Hebrew University. "I was told [by the Cal State administration] to take the 14 students and wait out the war in Cyprus," she told The Jewish Journal. Tarrow and the students ignored the order and, taking certain precautions, stayed in Jerusalem throughout the war.

Spence said his office will issue clear criteria and guidelines so that students will know in advance the ground rules governing their overseas stay.

Jewish community organizations and Jewish faculty members lobbied quietly but persistently for a change in Cal State policy, once cancellation of the program became public. (Several faculty members said they were unaware of the whole matter until it was featured in The Jewish Journal in late December.)

Diplomatically, Spence acknowledged, "The interest expressed by the Jewish community was helpful in getting us to where we are now," adding, however, that the process was "not always completely enjoyable."

In the forefront of the communal effort was the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, chaired by Barbara Yaroslavsky, with Gia Daniller, director of legislative affairs and government relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco, doing the heavy lifting.

As the discussions intensified, they drew the participation of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and up to five university trustees.

The primary faculty representative was Prof. Samuel Edelman of the Chico campus, who described the current administration attitude as "very forthcoming." He traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Cal State students there and get their input.

Edelman heads a consortium of Jewish studies programs on three Cal State campuses, with five additional campuses in the process of joining.

On the administration's side, a key participant was Leo van Cleve, Cal State's director of international programs.

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