Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday a proposed code of ethics that would bar lecturers from expressing political opinions at work is actually meant to combat people being silenced on campus.
“We are taking action to prevent silencing in academe, to prevent a situation where a student is getting hurt due to his political views and where a lecturer whose salary is paid by taxpayers calls for an [academic] boycott,” said Bennett, speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“We’re in favor of academic freedom,” the education minister added. “We’re against promoting political agendas in academe.”
The code of ethics for political activity in academic institutions was drafted at Bennett’s behest by Asa Kasher, a philosophy and ethics professor at Tel Aviv University. Kasher also penned the Israeli army’s code of ethics.
It will soon be submitted for approval by the Council for Higher Education.
The code would bar academics from expressing political opinions at work and forbid them from calling for an academic boycott of Israel. The code states “that academic staff must be careful [to avoid] the possibility that their statements in class are naturally interpreted by students as political activity.”
The code would let students demand that lecturers explain statements that appear political. The academic would then have to either provide a “detailed and polite explanation” or apologize for violating the rules.
The code would require each institution of higher education “to establish a unit that would monitor political activity” on campus, the document says.
The unit could be an existing system, such as an ethics committee, or a new department managed by the institution’s academic staff. So far, institutions have not been required to reply to students’ complaints or inquiries on political activity, according to Kasher. The new units would correct that.
On Saturday, the umbrella organization of the heads of Israel’s universities blasted the code.
“The ethical code proposed by Prof. Asa Kasher undermines institutes of higher education’s freedom to decide their own codes of conduct for their academic staff, and thus infringes on academic freedom in the most serious and fundamental way,” it said, adding that this right was enshrined as part of Israeli law.