על מנהיגות האוניברסיטאות הכושלת / פרופ' אמריטוס אלכסנדר-זאב גיורא, אונ' חיפה

La trahison des clercs

… or I should say "la trahison des elus," the betrayal of the leadership: The Presidents of the Universities ( with the notable exception of Pres. Galil of TAU), the Chair and Vice-Chair of MALAG, the Chair of VATAT, but first and foremost  the Presidents of the Universities who caricatured themselves into "hanhalot", "management", instead of rising to the challenge of manhigut. Some of us have been there before and may even know what we are talking about.

[….] The Presidents seem to have forgotten who they are, where they come from, where they shall return, who their constituency is and to whom they shall render an account; but they forgot even more than that: they forgot what a university was. And in the process they have lost their mandate.

They forgot what a university is. Historically, in the West, higher education and its locus, the university, has evolved over hundreds of years, shaping and following, in a reciprocal way,  the social and intellectual currents of the culture, until  it has become the distilled expression and the very  embodiment of the  civilization , molding, representing, and transmitting it. From Athens of antiquity, through the monasteries to Bologna and the Sorbonne, to Oxford, to Harvard, to Jerusalem. In the course of the centuries and through changing emphases from  theology to philosophy to science, reflecting dominant social and intellectual currents,  a dual role has evolved for the universities. A dual role that  is as powerful today as it was when the faculty of the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, broke free of  episcopal control, almost eight hundred years ago, in 1215 CE.

This can be best described as the joining of a defining role and an instrumental role into one inseparable charge. The defining role is expressed  in the pursuit of knowledge, but  not only in the pursuit of knowledge. It is expressed in the very definition of what constitutes knowledge, of what is and what is not knowledge. Moreover, this defining role is expressed  in the implied authority to determine what does and what does not constitute legitimate and canonical ways of pursuing knowledge. The defining role sanctions  epistemologies and methodologies, approving of some and rejecting others. And ultimately, and perhaps most significantly from a social, cultural and political point of view, this defining role determines what knowledge is carried from one generation to the next. It determines what are considered the foundations of  civilization and what will be  the building blocks of its future. It has become the distillation and embodiment of what is perhaps the most precious in Western civilization: the spirit of free inquiry, not subject to ephemeral and extrinsic market forces or other political pressures.

There are inevitable, but hopefully productive, tensions between the several groups constituting the university. Their priorities are not necessarily and not always compatible, their definition of the mission of the institution is bound to be at variance. What is not at variance, however, is the definition of a university faculty: a group of men and women dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, pushing this search to the cutting edge, sharing the joy and the frustrations of this endeavor with students and transmitting the fruits of their search in a distilled and formal way to the next generation, to all learners. A community of scholars, forging new knowledge and disseminating it in the crucible of interaction, modeling and partnership. That is the university. The university is a unique form of  a corporation, and it is governed by its members in an unusual way: by a careful balance between the collegial and the hierarchical.  That is how  the concept and practice of rotating  leadership from within has developed. Not "management"  – and never by outsiders, or by such who see themselves as outsiders.

The university had stood the test of the time. It is an institution worth preserving and defending. That is the sacred trust that has been handed down to us, and we must be true to it for the sake of future generations.

Les elus – our leaders of the moment should be our voice and shield, and not a hand raised against us. But they have failed miserably. They failed us and they failed their trust.

Alexander-Zeev Guiora

University of Haifa


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