The Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University will soon commemorate 20 years since its founding. Prof. David Newman who, together with two other colleagues from BGU was responsible for the establishment of the department, reflects on the early years.
Until 1997, BGU only had a small teaching unit in political science. The president of the university, Prof. Avishay Braverman, asked Prof. Newman to prepare the necessary infrastructure for the establishment of a full academic department. The Council of Higher Education conditioned its approval on the interdisciplinary nature of the department, founded by a political geographer (Newman), a political historian (Prof. Poznanski), and a political sociologist (Dr. Grinberg), to which end it was named the Department of Politics and Government, rather than Political Science.
October 1998: The department began to operate
The department began to operate in 1998. Prof. Newman served as the first chairperson of the department for over five years.
“It was a period which department chairs can only dream of,” recalls Newman. “I was enabled to recruit new tenure-track faculty, I had resources available for development and, along with other tasks, had to find new office space.”
Toward the end of his period as department chair, Prof. Newman, together with Dr. Joel Peters, founded the Center for Study of European Politics and Society, giving the Politics Department its strong European focus. This cross-faculty cener continues to operate today under the auspices of the Politics Department.
The threat to close the department
The department was perceived as a place for critical studies and this became a point of contention both internally and externally. Five years ago, the CHE proposed closing the department, because, it argued, it did not sufficiently deal with the hardcore political science which was apparent in other departments throughout the country. Prof. Newman, who by that time was the faculty dean, had to expend much of his energy and time in defending the department.
“There is more to the world than what happens in Israel-Palestine”
Newman sees major challenges facing the department in the next stage of its development. He would like to see more courses being taught in English, a greater effort to recruit international students, and a greater propensity on the part of Israeli students to undertake research projects on global issues – not just Israeli society and the Arab-Israel conflict.
After 20 years, the department continues to grow. “It is now for the next younger generation of scholars to take the department forward and to enable the critical study of politics and society, as it seeks to educate the next generation of concerned and aware citizens.”
Prof. Newman is proud of what has been achieved thus far. He is confident that the Politics Department will continue to flourish as a major center for interdisciplinary thought and intellectual debate.