Universities May Close for the Year

Whatever decision the university heads & lecturers make today regarding their long-running strike, the semester seems to be in mortal danger.

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Hillel Fendel,

Bar Ilan Psychology Building
Bar Ilan Psychology Building

Though the universities' fall semester was to have been called off if the nearly thee-month-old strike was not resolved by Sunday, another extension has been granted.

Sunday was the deadline for which the entire university community has been waiting for weeks. Despite intensive negotiations, an emergency meeting in the Prime Minister's office, and a Labor Court hearing, no final word on the future of the strike or the semester was determined.

The Labor Court judges were expected to issue back-to-work orders to the striking lecturers Sunday, but in the end, allowed the dispute to simmer for yet another week.  They ruled that negotiations between the lecturers and the Finance Ministry had not been held with sufficient urgency, and that talks must be held for another week.  The court wishes to hear a report on the state of the talks next Sunday.

The ruling was issued under the shadow of a long-running threat from the university heads that if the strike was not resolved on the deadline, the semester would be called off.  They have now scheduled an emergency meeting for noon Monday to decide how to proceed.  It is likely that they will, in fact, take the unprecedented step of calling off the entire semester - causing immeasurable damage to the 120,000 students.

The lecturers say their salaries have been eroded intolerably over the years, and originally demanded an immediate 35% pay hike.  They have since lowered their expectations to 21%, with future increments of varying amounts.  The Finance Ministry says it cannot meet this demand, however.

The university heads met early Sunday evening with Cabinet Secretary Oved Yechezkel in the Prime Minister's Office, but no progress was made.  Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called upon the lecturers to return to the classrooms voluntarily, "before the court orders you to do so."

Moshe Kaveh, President of Bar Ilan University and the Chairman of the University Heads Council, said again on Sunday that if the court does not force the lecturers back to work, "we will call off the school year."  Even if the semester is not called off Monday, however, it is not expected that professors teaching under duress will do what is necessary to rectify the damage to the students that has already been caused.