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Monday, 21 January 2008

Israeli Universities Extend Summer Semester as 3-Month Faculty Strike Ends

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Monday, January 21, 2008

By MATTHEW KALMAN

Jerusalem

Israeli universities finally began their fall semester on Sunday,
three months behind schedule, after the end of a 90-day strike by
tenured professors.

The strike was settled on Friday after all-night talks lasting 20
hours involving representatives of the senior faculty members, the
Israeli ministries of education and finance, and university
presidents.

The agreement gives the professors a 24-percent pay increase in three
stages over the next two years, which includes a 14-percent supplement
to make up for the erosion of salaries since the last collective
agreement was signed in 1997. The professors had argued that their pay
had systematically eroded in recent years as part of deep budget cuts
in government education spending.

The universities will extend the summer semester by up to two months
to catch up on lost teaching time, with classes added in the evenings
and on Fridays, which are usually free days.

Professor Zvi Hacohen, leader of the professors' union, described the
deal as "excellent, the best in the past decade."

"It was achieved after a long and difficult struggle. We think it will
be a solution and an answer to the brain drain and help the State of
Israel," he said on Friday after signing the agreement. "We apologize
to the students. For lack of an alternative, we were forced to do them
harm."

As part of the agreement, the professors pledged not to strike again
before 2010.

Government Wants Change

But Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, who had opposed the professors'
demands, warned that in order to avoid a future crisis, the deal must
go hand in hand with government-backed proposals "to change the
content and essence of higher education, not only the wage structure
of a small sector of lecturers."

"Without reform, I emphasize, there will be no change," he said.

The government has been pushing for wide-scale reform of the
higher-education system, including an increase in tuition and the
introduction of government-backed student loans. Those proposals
triggered a lengthy strike by students at the end of the last academic
year.

The 90-day strike, which involved 4,500 professors, was not the
longest in Israeli academic history. That dubious record is held by a
five-month strike of junior teaching staff in 1997.

Effect on Students

There was widespread relief on university campuses on Sunday as
students returned to class, but many said they still did not know
exactly how the faculty planned to organize the remainder of the year
to cover the course work missed because of the strike.

Some classes were taught by junior, nontenured professors, who are
members of a different union, but most students found at least some of
their courses canceled, with some cut off from as many as 75 percent
of the courses they signed up for.

Shlomo Levy, chairman of the student union at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, said the students had supported the professors' strike but
were pleased it was over.

"There was a united front among students, graduate students and the
professors," said Mr. Levy, a third-year student in social sciences
and economics. "They all saw this as a long-term struggle for the
future of the entire academic system. The struggle of the professors
for higher salaries was a struggle to stop teachers leaving the
universities, which in the end will lead to lower teaching standards
for the students."

He said many students would suffer from the extension of the summer
semester since it was normal practice for Israeli students to spend
the summer vacation working in order to finance their studies for the
following year.

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