Whither Bir Zeit University?

Whither Bir Zeit University?

Anton Sabella (Birzeit University, Palestine)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5820-1.ch009
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Since its founding under the Israeli occupation, Bir Zeit University has been the catalyst for educating the Palestinian ‘generations of occupation'. Its mission was to empower those who were bereft of their basic human rights and to reclaim and develop the Palestinian national identity by resisting the stultification of Palestinian youth. Following the Oslo Accords, Bir Zeit University has experienced several important developments, namely exponential growth in enrolment, unnecessary programmatic expansion, introduction of super-size classes, and irresponsible staffing decisions. Against this background and a growing financial crisis, this case study examined how managerialism has succeeded in subduing Bir Zeit University to its syllabus, specifically how cultural and structural changes have led to compromising the work conditions and relationships of faculty members. Hence, this case study bids the question—Whither Bir Zeit University?—to those who care to question the present state of affairs as well as anyone ready to search for answers.
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Inspiration Amidst Adversity

The flag of Bir Zeit University, the oldest institution of higher education in occupied Palestine, features the evergreen olive tree on white background, between two pairs of horizontal red and black stripes. While the colors are inspired by those of the flag of Palestine, the adoption of the olive tree as the university emblem is an ever present tribute to the town in which Bir Zeit University was founded, Bir Zeit (Bīr Zyt) – Arabic for ‘well of [olive] oil’. The flag of Bir Zeit University epitomizes an historic event in the lives of Palestinians, both inside Palestine and in diaspora: the founding of the first national higher education institution (HEI) under the purview of the Israeli settler–colonial regime. Bir Zeit University writes its own tale at a time of crisis in Palestinians’ lives, its tale and that of the Palestinian people are linked together by fate and by the all-consuming terrors of the Israeli occupation. It is well established that the founding of Bir Zeit University constitutes an act of redress to enliven the struggle against the occupation, and an unyielding determination to resist the brutality of the Israeli occupation and its mentally stultifying effects on a ravished homeland (http://www.birzeit.edu/). The transformation into a full-fledged university happened in response to two prevailing circumstances: the evolving needs of the community for post-secondary education, caught up as it was in the socio-political and economic turmoil that swept through the whole country; and, the vision of the founders whose determination and enterprising skills made this transformation possible.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Managerialism: Also called ‘new managerialism’ and ‘new public management’, can be referred to as a wide spectrum of “objective techniques” for managing the selection, motivation and promotion of employees. It is more concerned with imparting the command and control concepts of management.

Institutional Autonomy: The ability of an academic institution of higher education to decide for itself on all academic matters, including the setting of the university’s academic and social mission.

Oslo Accords: An agreement marking the beginning of the peace process (or peace negotiations) between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the ‘Government of Israel’.

Academic Freedom: A moral and legal privilege granting the freedom – for both the academic institution and the individual academician – to pursue scientific and scholarly inquiries and to communicate and teach ideas to their students, even if the nature of such activities were in opposition to external structures of power.

Higher Education Institutions: A broad term including not only universities and community colleges, but also vocational and professional schools and teacher-training schools.

Collegial Governance: A type of governance, prevailing primarily in higher education institutions, in which mutual respect between colleagues and consensus on institutional goals and sensitive issues are of paramount importance.

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