Cal State reverses itself, plans to reinstate Israel program

LOS ANGELES — California State University will reinstate its overseas study program in Israel after canceling the program last fall.

"Barring a major catastrophe, we are initiating a new study program at the University of Haifa, starting this fall," said David Spence, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the 23-campus system.

Cal State was only one of several American universities to cancel or consider canceling their programs in Israel last fall, but most backed down under pressure from American Jewish groups.

Some universities made students sign waivers absolving the home university of responsibility for the students' safety, or arranged transfers to the supposedly "safer" Tel Aviv University. Other universities canceled their spring Israel programs but let students finish the fall semester.

Still in question is whether Cal State will give financial and academic support to students opting for study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University, as it has in past years.

Cal State professors and Jewish community representatives who have been dealing with the university's administration said they believe that students would be able to enroll at any of the three Israeli universities.

However, Spence said a decision on whether to reinstate the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv programs would be made within the next three weeks. He indicated that in light of the present security situation in Israel, Haifa was considered the "safest" city in the country, but that in the future the program might be rotated among the three universities.

Cal State came in for considerable criticism last October when it abruptly notified its 11 students — already enrolled at Hebrew and Tel Aviv universities — that the program had been terminated, and urged them to come home. Officials said they were motivated solely by concern for the students' safety.

The sudden decision left the students, who had finished an intensive summer Hebrew-language program and were enrolled in courses, without financial support for tuition, health insurance and dormitory costs. Also thrown into question was whether course credits earned at Hebrew University would be automatically accepted by their home campuses.

Only one student opted to return home, however.

Cal State administrators were not swayed by the fact that a much larger contingent of students from U.C. Berkeley, UCLA and other University of California campuses were allowed to continue their studies in Israel.

Now, after three months of intensive discussion at the highest levels at Cal State headquarters in Long Beach, the university is fully reimbursing the students who stayed in Israel for tuition, health insurance, housing and out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, their course credits have been fully accepted by their home campuses.

In addition, Cal State will appoint a faculty member as a full-time resident director in Israel to oversee the program. This had been the practice in earlier years, but only a part-time Israeli assistant was in charge when the program was canceled in mid-October.

Critics believe the crisis would have been handled more skillfully had a Cal State professor been on hand last fall.

Spence also said his office will issue clear criteria and guidelines so that students will know in advance the rules governing their overseas stay.

Jewish faculty members and community organizations lobbied quietly but persistently for a change in Cal State policy once cancellation of the program became public. Several faculty members said they had been unaware of the matter until it was featured in Jewish media in late December.

Spence acknowledged diplomatically that "the interest expressed by the Jewish community was helpful in getting us to where we are now," though the process was "not always completely enjoyable."

In the forefront of the communal effort was the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, chaired by Barbara Yaroslavsky, with Gia Daniller, director of legislative affairs and government relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco, doing the heavy lifting.

As the discussion intensified, they drew the participation of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and up to five university trustees.

The primary faculty representative was Prof. Samuel Edelman of the Chico campus, who described the current administration attitude as "very forthcoming". He traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Cal State students in Jerusalem and get their input.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent