The Rector’s Message | Office of the Rector

November 20, 2020

November 2020 


I am pleased to update regarding developments in a variety of areas. We welcome your comments and suggestions for improvement.

We extend warm congratulations to two colleagues on winning important awards: Prof. Rafi Meshulam, who celebrated his 90th birthday last week, won the Harvey Award from the Technion, for his outstanding achievements in cannabinoid research, which made a crucial scientific contribution to both basic and applied research.

Prof. Avishai Dekel won the 2020 Landau Science and Arts award in the field of Astrophysics and Space Research, for his achievements in the study of cosmology, especially in terms of understanding the processes of galaxy formation.
The academic year began successfully. The faculty members invested much in preparing the on-line courses and it is very noticeable. (On a personal note, alongside official sources of information, namely deans, heads of the student union and other officials, I also receive information from two other sources: I teach a course with 150 students and am experiencing the challenge of distance teaching firsthand; and my daughter began studying at the University this year, and she and her and her friends provide valuable, even if anecdotal, information…). The combination of recorded lectures with live Zoom lessons, submitting assignments in groups and other diverse teaching activities is proving to be a success. About 80% of our students reside in Jerusalem or Rehovot (dorm occupancy is about 85%), and many of our students have begun to visit the campus, to engage in distance learning on campus (in designated learning sites). We are finalizing the technological preparations for administrating exams and I will report on this soon, upon completion of a large-scale trial.

Although we got off to a good start, we are facing considerable difficulties as well. We are still not able to obtain a permit to conduct teaching laboratories on campus, and the renewed rise in corona cases may indicate that the window of opportunity for instruction in laboratories and parallel teaching, for which we prepared technologically, is shrinking. Furthermore, many students are experiencing financial distress, due to widespread unemployment among part-time workers, and although we are working vigorously to increase the budgets for scholarship aid, it is still not sufficient. Another difficulty stems from the fact that research activities at the University are suffering, because of the increased workload on faculty members (including teaching responsibilities and care of family members), and due to difficulties in the operation of laboratories. Despite this, in the overall account, our University is managing to function very well, thanks to the admirable mobilization of the University community.

As already reported, there has been an impressive increase this year in the demand for study at the University, and we have reached an all-time high in the number of undergraduate and master’s degree students, despite some increase in admission thresholds:

When we include doctoral students, postdoctoral students, and preparatory (non-degree) program students from abroad, the community of students at the University is expected to number about 25,500 students this year.

The welcome increase in the number of students makes extending the duration of students’ studies, especially for a master’s degree, undesirable. Extending the duration of studies increases the risk of students dropping out, and it means that we cannot take in new students given the quota for the maximum number of students determined by the BPC. All academic units should strive to manage master’s degree level study better, with continuous tracking of each student’s academic progress.

Regarding students from abroad: Thanks to the vigorous work of the International Office, in collaboration with the Rothberg School and the faculties, there was an increase of about 8% in international students this year. The increase could have been greater had it not been for the pandemic:

The report of the annual HUJI student satisfaction survey will be sent to all units in the coming days. The heads of units were instructed to distribute the detailed report to all academic and administrative staff and to draw conclusions from the report. We conducted the survey in August 2020 and 9,161 students in both bachelor’s and master’s degrees programs responded (about 50% of the total number of students studying in these degrees). Despite the special circumstances in which learning took place in the second semester of 2019-20 (particularly the exam period and the transition to granting a pass/fail score), students reported satisfaction remained relatively high. The scores are on a scale of 1 (not at all satisfied) to 5 (very satisfied).

In a multi-year comparison there is a welcome trend of improvement:

Academic units that stand out, with an average overall satisfaction score above 3.95 include: dentistry, humanities, medicine, and law. In the following units, there is a substantial increase in satisfaction: social sciences, social work, and education. A certain decrease in satisfaction occurred in the units on the Safra campus in Givat Ram and in Rehovot. This was, at least in part, influenced by the exam policy.

The academic staff at the Hebrew University is blessed with excellent researchers, but it has traditionally been characterized by a lack of adequate representation of some groups, especially Arabs and women. I will focus here on the field of gender. One expression of the under-representation of women is in the University administration. On the one hand, of the University’s ten deans, four are women, and the two vice rectors are women. But the University’s president, the rector and the four vice presidents are all men. This is a situation that troubles all members of the University’s administration, and we hope that in the not too distant future it will be corrected, both in practice and in terms of public visibility.

As for the faculty members, although there is a certain increase in the proportion of women, there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality. Below is the proportion of women among tenure-track faculty members in the regular track.

The increase in the overall percentage of women at the University, from 26% to 30%, is especially noteworthy in light of the fact that while in 2016 more than half of the staff members served in Mt. Scopus, most of the increase in the number of the faculty members was in the experimental sciences, where traditionally representation of women is lower. The continuation of the current trend is expected to lead to the percentage of women on the faculty reaching 33% within a few years, and the proportion of women in the rank of full professors reaching 25%. While this is an improvement over the past, it is not sufficient. The University’s administration, together with a team led by the President’s Advisor on Gender, Prof. Haya Lorberboum-Galski and in collaboration with the University’s deans, is taking a series of steps designed to bring about a further improvement in the situation.

Finally, two weeks ago, the University Board of Governors held its annual meeting, in a limited format due to the situation. The gathering concluded an exceptionally successful year in the field of fundraising, in which a total of $145 million was donated to the University. Part of this amount is intended for the University’s current budget (last year, approximately $26 million). Another part is used for the establishment of endowments, whose annual return is designated for defined purposes, mostly for scholarships and activities. The last part of the donated funds is for the construction of buildings. Accordingly, the total funds donated this year is expected to assist research and teaching activities at the University in the coming years as well. The amount raised this past year is the highest (nominal) amount received in one year in the University’s history.

This is an opportunity to thank the dedicated and professional staff of the External Relations Division, who face the unique challenge of raising donations for the University at a time when donors cannot be hosted and it is not possible to travel for fundraising missions abroad.
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Thank you all for your wonderful work, members of the academic and administrative staff alike. May you enjoy good health, and may we return to normalcy soon. As the late Nathan Zach reminded us, “We all need grace, we all need human contact.”

Best regards,

Barak Medina, Rector