The 23-campus California State University (CSU) system has canceled its current overseas study program with Hebrew University in Jerusalem, leaving 11 enrolled students to face the loss of academic credits and tuition subsidies.
Despite these difficulties, nine of the students apparently have decided to stay in Israel, and some have appealed via the Internet for financial help to allow them to complete the semester.
CSU's decision was announced Oct. 18, after the students had already finished their ulpan (intensive Hebrew language instruction) and had signed housing contracts for the semester.
The basis for the decision was a U.S. State Department advisory against travel to Israel, and the action was taken for the students' safety, said Leo van Cleve, director of international programs at CSU headquarters in Long Beach.
The California State University system is on the second rung of the state's three-tier master plan for public higher education, and is not to be confused with the University of California (UC) system, which has campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and seven other locations. UC is continuing its overseas studies program in Israel.
Responding to the plight of CSU students in Jerusalem, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California has petitioned CSU Chancellor Charles Reed to reconsider his decision, and a conference call between administration officials and Jewish spokesmen has been scheduled for Thursday. However, there are no indications that CSU will change its mind.
"We are trying to mediate the matter, but CSU appears to be standing firm on its original decision," said Barbara Yaroslavsky, chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC).
Earlier, George Washington University in the nation's capital announced a break with its study programs in Israel but rescinded the decision after Jewish groups, alerted by an article in the Jerusalem Post, filed strong protests.
Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania also dropped plans to deny credits for studies at Hebrew University.
In all these cases, however, the cancellations would have affected students planning to enroll in next year's spring semester, while the CSU decision affects the 11 students who were already in Israel and had enrolled at the Hebrew University.
The primary negotiations with CSU are spearheaded by the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco, headed by Rabbi Doug Kahn, through its education director, Jackie Berman, and its legislative director, Gia Daniller.
According to the two directors, and confirmed by CSU's van Cleve on the essential points, the 11 students find themselves in the following situation:
Under the original agreement between CSU and the Hebrew University, CSU covered the difference between than $1,800 annual tuition fee paid by its students and the $6,000 fee charged by the Rothberg School for Overseas Studies at Hebrew University. With the cancellation of the program, students opting to remain must somehow raise $4,200 for unexpected tuition payments.
Secondly, the students face the loss of academic credits for their Israeli studies, which under the old agreement were automatically transferred to their home campuses.
Van Cleve said the students can apply on an individual basis for credit, but it would be up to the respective departments at home whether to comply. Credit will be given for the ulpan studies, he said.
Van Cleve added that CSU had considered but rejected some options weighed by other universities, such as transferring students to "safer" Tel Aviv University or accepting waivers from students absolving CSU of responsibility for their safety.
He noted that CSU has study abroad programs with some 50 foreign universities. In the past, he believed, similar cancellations were ordered only twice, both in Israel, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1991 Gulf War.
Van Cleve suggested that the CSU cancellation would stand for the upcoming spring semester but that the situation would be reconsidered in early 2001.
Prof. Samuel Edelman of CSU Chico, who heads a consortium of Jewish studies programs on three CSU campuses, said that the faculty, having heard only belatedly of the administration decision, was "very upset" and felt that the decision was precipitous.