S had a major assignment due by midnight, but was forced to take a lower grade and turn it in late because she had no access to the resources she needed in the college library as it was closed to women that day.
This is a reality for students on campuses in Israel that are trying to attract ultra-Orthodox students. Freedom and equality, the most basic principles of academia, are suspended on ultra-Orthodox college campuses and students’ acceptance is on the condition that they dress and behave a certain way or be expelled.
The Israeli government promises its citizens’ education. In order to fulfill its promise and encourage the ultra-Orthodox to pursue higher education, colleges must create learning spaces that meet the religious and cultural needs of ultra-Orthodox students. This means ultra-Orthodox only campuses and special tracks of learning. Programs where professors and instructors are only men, classes are separate for men and women, and there is a strict dress code for women on campuses – including a “modesty suvervisor” who determines if behavior and dress are modest enough for the campus. Non-compliance leads to expulsion. It robs us of the essence of academia.
There is a very fine balance between the importance of education and the values of freedom and equality. Encouraging the ultra-Orthodox to attend institutions of higher education so that they can become productive members of society is very important, but at what expense?
In 2018, IRAC is working to make sure campuses trying to integrate ultra-Orthodox Israelis into their student body do not go beyond what is legal. We will continue to take action to ensure that cafeterias, libraries and degree programs do not segregate or exclude women. We are working to collect information and build the legal arguments to end gender segregation in institutions of higher learning.