Committed Academy?

Committed Academy? Jerusalem, January 28, 2007
The study-day presented the initiative of the Academy-Community Partnership for Social Change to develop academic courses that integrate student social action, and to enhance cooperation between the academy and organizations working for social change. Professors, lecturers, deans, graduate students, and representatives of social organizations participated in the event.
In his introductory remarks, and throughout the day, Professor Jona Rosenfeld (The Unit for Learning from Success, Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute) emphasized that the program aspires to influence various populations and target audiences, including institutions of higher education. It is important to remember that the academy needs to learn from the knowledge in the field, to promote its commitment to learn from the field. Although the program is currently in its initial stages, Prof. Rosenfeld added, it is important that every academic institution offer courses that tackle social ideas, with clear goals and values. The discourse and the knowledge in these courses should be based on direct contact with the field, with individuals living in poverty.
Dr. Daphna Golan, Director of the Academy-Community Partnership for Social Change, described the project’s development. It began with a group of faculty members, students, and individuals from organizations who examined ways to develop stronger ties between the academy and the community. The research initiated by the group found that many students are indeed socially active, but do not receive sufficient guidance, nor do they have the frameworks necessary for exchanging knowledge with other student activists. Further, the research found that there is no formulation of policy for support of social engagement at the various institutions, and few faculty members are involved in students' social action, and in their guidance. Moreover, students who participated in the study mentioned repeatedly that there is no connection between the academic knowledge and their volunteer experiences. The Partnership was created in an attempt to expand students' social action, and strengthen their learning by deepening the connection between the academic knowledge and their work in the communities and organizations. The research findings were presented to the Council for Higher Education (CHE), which responded positively, initiating a call for proposals/cooperation to engage students and faculty members in the community. The call for proposals was issued in the past academic year. The CHE described in the call for proposals possible ways through which the institutions could help promote the students’ activities. The CHE also provides budgetary support, distributed among the various institutions, based upon each institution’s report. According to the CHE's budgeting framework, one hour of a student’s work in the community is granted twice as much funding when accompanied by an academic course.  
The Partnership is currently active in developing academic courses and various partnerships between students and communities, and in supporting student activists in studying the social, economic, and political context in which they are active. Over the past year, the Partnership supported ten courses, out of 49 applications—elective courses, from various disciplines, which are not part of a formal practical training curriculum, and which we hope will create change not only amongst the students, the organizations, and the community, but also within the academy. This year as well, the Partnership is unable to support all those who apply. Nonetheless, we believe that the Partnership also has a role in creating a space where faculty can ask questions and discuss problems and tensions. Throughout the year, the faculty members and teaching assistants from courses which were awarded grants met periodically for mutual learning, as part of the support and guidance process.
Dr. Golan stressed that courses which integrate social action are not simple, but rather require intensive preparation and guidance. Research from the United States has shown that the learning through these courses is more significant, and that the students who participated in them were more successful, both throughout their studies, and subsequently. Participation in the courses influenced their decisions to pursue professions and careers that include community work. The courses offer a different pedagogy, allowing for dialogue with the professor, group discussions with classmates, and long-term work in groups. The courses are also an opportunity for reinvigoration of faculty members—they present the students and the faculty with new knowledge, offering them a view of a world with which they are not always directly acquainted. Dr. Golan mentioned that as a faculty member, her visits to the organizations in which the students work are extremely important, and she learns a great deal from them.
Participants comments related to the new connections that the courses offer, as they require knowledge that differs from accepted academic thinking. Dr. Ayala Cohen from Tel Hai Academic College mentioned the potential of these courses for building new bodies of knowledge, based upon the encounter between faculty members, students, organizations and the community.
Two of the courses which received grants from the Partnership were presented during the study day.
Dr. Nira Reiss presented the course that she is teaching together with Ornat Turin at Gordon College of Education in Haifa. The course, Active Involvement of Education Students in Women’s Rights Organizations, examines aspects of gender and class of female teachers and education students in Israel, and the relation of these aspects to the process of student training and integration in the education system. Among the course goals are: to inspire a critical, class-conscious and political perspective amongst the students, to awaken their curiosity in matters of gender, and to empower them as women, citizens, teachers, who will also frequently contend with gender education. It is important to the faculty members that the students develop an awareness regarding gender and class. The students in the class volunteer at the following organizations: shelters for battered women, Isha L’Isha (woman to woman), Kayan (being – feminist organization), and Itach-Ma’aki(women lawyers for social justice). They join the ongoing activities at the organizations, and do not create their own projects within the framework of the course. For example, students accompany groups of children in shelters for battered women, or guide women during the divorce process. In choosing the organizations, the Dr. Reiss and Turin felt that one important criterion was the organization's ability to take in the students and train them for any activities as needed. Another criterion was the bi-national makeup of the organizations’ staff, well-suited for taking on Arab and Jewish students. Dr. Reiss emphasized at the outset the national-cultural composition of the College, where more than half of the students are Druze and Muslim and Christian Arabs, and a large percentage are Mizrahi.
The course comprises of long meetings, including six introductory lectures on the following topics: human rights, feminism, women's status in Israel, and civil society organizations in Israel, and towards the end of the year, concluding meetings. In the introductory lectures, representatives of the organizations came to present their activities, in order to give the students the opportunity to choose where they would like to volunteer. The students work five hours a week in the organization during the academic year, and keep a journal throughout that period, intended to serve them in writing their seminar paper. In effect they volunteer in groups of two or three within each organization, but because of the geographical distribution, they are not able to work as a team in all activities. Dr. Reiss noted that the students’ journals thus far reflect the students’ lack of critical thinking and difficulties in writing, despite the satisfaction they express regarding the activities.
Dr. Reiss described the great logistical investment necessary for the course. The faculty members meet the students every week, speak with them, and guide them, in addition to the guidance provided by the organizations. One of the ways to integrate the work in the field with the theoretical work is the seminar paper that every student must write towards the end of the year. The paper is meant to aid in processing the data that was acquired in the field, in light of the theoretical background presented in the course. The faculty hopes that some of the activism, the relationship with the organizations, and the knowledge gained, will stick, and accompany the students in the future. They testify to the spiritual uplifting that surrounded the course during the first semester.
One of the questions raised in the context of the first course presented related to the students’ activities within the organizations: does it perhaps serve the organizations, but without any influence upon a broader change? Dr. Reiss commented that it is possible that not all of the activities in which the students are involved create ‘enough’ change, but they see the organizations as agents. In their opinion, the students’ action is meant to help the organizations bring about change, and therefore the students’ volunteer work is much broader than the specific activities which they perform. They are part of the general discourse and activism in the organization. On the one hand, Dr. Reiss said, she believes in the need to be modest regarding the students’ ability to change the reality—but on the other hand, they can become part of a movement. As educators, they will be agents of change within the schools.
Dr. Haim Yacobi described the course that he teaches together with Dr. Neve Gordon, at the Department of Politics and Government in Ben-Gurion University. The starting point of the course, Human Rights, Community, and Planning Policy in Israel, is that planning policy has a decisive influence upon human rights and communities. Planning is perceived as a neutral field, professional and broad, but this course attempts to present its concrete aspects, and examine how the planning policies are related to health services, land distribution, etc. Moreover, the faculty members believe in the importance of accumulating a basis of knowledge regarding planning in Israel, and particularly in the Negev. The course goals are also to increase the students’ involvement in social efforts, a desire that the students internalize their potential to influence and to change, and also to open up ways of change for the organizations, in order to foster change.
The course is comprised of three central aspects: the theoretical aspect, which includes theories of human rights and general acquaintance with the planning system; case studies, through which the connection between human rights and planning is demonstrated; and a practical component, which focuses on practical tools—writing position papers and policy papers. The attempt is to integrate theory and practice, within the students’ activities as well as in the course's critical viewpoint towards the organizations’ strategies of action. The course presents a broad range of approaches, and attempts to examine what, in reality, contributes to action. The students are involved in projects in the southern region of the country. The faculty members strove to work with a number of organizations involved in different fields. The students study of all case studies enables the creation of a third body of knowledge derived from work in a very specific area, with specific communities. The course’s structure tries to take into account a type of gradual learning, which will allow the students to make the connections between the course and their activities at the organization.
Sixteen leading students in the department participate in the course. They are very committed to the course and to the action involved, and indeed it is a demanding course, requiring five hours of work in the organization per week. The students are required to produce within the organization, as well as write an academic paper that conceptualizes the work and knowledge learned in the field. The students work in each organization as a group, not as individuals.
Dr. Yacobi presented a number of examples of the students’ activities. For example, they work with Doctors for Human Rights and the Institution for the Advancement of Deaf Persons, who are collecting data that has never before been collected, working together to map the unrecognized villages in the Negev, to determine where there are more deaf children. The project combines data collection with analysis, relating to a number of variables, with an emphasis on the location. Clearly, within this framework, the students are exposed to fields of knowledge and visit places that are new to them. The types of activities in which the students are involved also have an impact upon their position within their own group. For example, in this group that works with the deaf in the unrecognized villages, a prominent place was given to an Arab student in the group, due to her command of the language.
Students in the course also work at Commitment to Peace and Social Justice. In this project, they survey the state of employment in Ashkelon, as it relates to the Wisconsin Plan. The students perform quantitative field work, as well as learn about, and get acquainted with, participants in the Plan. The students learn about the planning policy in the area and its disregard of the employment aspect. Another group of students studies the issue of water and sewage in Rahat, as an example of a place where the municipal planning does not take into account the different life style of the residents, which leads to tensions and conflicts with the local authorities.
The discussions with the organizations began even before the academic year, and today the relations with the organizations are extremely intensive. The course’s teaching assistant is in ongoing contact with some of the students and organizations, and takes care of all the details. In this course as well, there was an attempt to check which organizations can best absorb and train the students. Dr. Yacobi noted that, to a great extent, the students work with the organizations, and not necessarily directly with the communities. The network of organizations is very important, in part because there is practical handicap—students cannot enter a project and lead change in two semesters. One of the goals of the course is also to accord students a critical viewpoint about the world of the organizations within the framework of the course, a method of thinking that is crucial for students who volunteer and who are generally interested in social action. The course, moreover, serves as a basis for getting acquainted with new organizations, and creating long-term connections with them.
Carlos Sztyglic, Associate Director of SHATIL (empowerment and training center for social change organizations), and one of the founders and supporters of the Academy-Community Partnership for Social Change, spoke about central principles in joint work with social organizations. In his introductory remarks, Sztyglic noted that the Partnership's challenge lies in the joint learning of a broad group of people, in creating a framework whose central resource is the accumulation of knowledge. Many different actors are involved in the field of social activism. Sztyglic emphasized, therefore, that it is important to point out the diversity, to recognize it, and to learn from it—a step that is easier to talk about than to perform. It is important to try to form ties between the forces, to examine different opinions and approaches, to examine how one deals with different things in the field. People know different things and learn in diverse ways; therefore it is important not to blur the differences, but rather to preserve the tension as something educational. Of course, one must also acknowledge the contradictions and the conflicts that are to be found in diversity. 
Sztyglic also mentioned the importance of substantial dialogue between the organizations and the academy—discussions of possible fields for joint action, where they wish to cooperate. When creating a connection between the two bodies, one can conceptualize it as the development of a contract, wherein both sides clarify their expectations. In working with organizations, it is often necessary to work on the practical level—to bring the discussion down to how to strengthen the connections on the practical level. For example, it is important to discuss the students’ orientation in preparation for their work in the organization. Sztyglic noted that in order to ensure the best possible relationship between the student and the organization, it is important to get acquainted with the place—its vision, values, goals, and organizational structure. It is imperative that the students will not be alienated from the organization’s environment, that they will have the opportunity to come into direct contact, as much as possible, with the organizations, so that they will be directly involved, and feel an integral part of the project. It is also important that programs that place students with organizations will ensure that the organization provides appropriate support and back-up, by having a responsible person who makes sure to be in contact with the students, and is accessible for advice. Finally, students who work in social action organizations should be integrated into innovative new projects, and should not just be involved in the ongoing work. In such a way, students can have an experience that also contributes in a tangible way to the organization. One can see this encounter point between the academy and the organizations as a starting point, not a “pool” that you dip into once, not a one-time and short-term event, but rather something ongoing and developing.
In continuation to Carlos Sztyglic words, questions arose regarding the number of organizations that one should work with per course. Dr. Golan said that in her course, students are invited to choose from amongst 25 organizations each year, but if a student is interested in working for a different organization, it is usually possible. However, experience has shown that the fieldwork is usually less successful than in organizations that were trained for working with students, and with whom an ongoing connection exists. Dr. Hanna Safran said that in the course that she teaches at the Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Women Leading Change, she asks the students to search by themselves for organizations, as part of the learning process. Sztyglic noted that SHATIL can be of assistance in sharpening the questions regarding work and acquaintance with organizations.
Other questions that arose during the discussion were connected to the thought process that guides the programs’ activities in the field. For instance, Michael Klinghoffer, Dean of Students and faculty member at the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance, explained that when his institution developed projects implemented in the periphery, they consider what they can do to change patterns in music education which do not depend upon financial resources. Therefore they do not invest in physical resources, but rather in knowledge, that will remain in the community.
The participants also discussed their ability to influence the students, to encourage them to participate in courses and social activities wherein the financial reward is not the central component. This led to a discussion about compensation for the students, whether to grant scholarships or class credit, and also about possibilities for increasing enrollment to the courses. Despite the fear that the students will register merely for the scholarship, it was noted that the lack of scholarships will bar students from a certain socio-economic status from participating in the program. Dr. Golan said that the model for student compensation should be developed in each institution individually, taking into account all the possible combinations. It is worthwhile for each institution to think about how to combine class credit and scholarships of the social involvement units—to create the combination that is best suited for each institution.
Finally, as Sztyglic concluded, there is a need to create a fine platform for the various programs within the institutions. Likewise, Prof. Rosenfeld added that there is an obligation to try and change the way in which the academy conceives of its role, and the learning process.
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