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Ariel University faces internal turmoil amid external boycott

The dismissal of the university's senior vice president, Bobby Brown, has donors and friends of the embattled institution up in arms.

Ariel University hosted an awards ceremony for former Vice President Mike Pence and former Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on March 9, 2022. Photo by Josh Hasten.
Ariel University hosted an awards ceremony for former Vice President Mike Pence and former Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on March 9, 2022. Photo by Josh Hasten.

Ariel University is awash in internal turmoil and facing a donor revolt over the heavy-handed policies of its administration and the sudden dismissal of its senior vice president in charge of fundraising, according to university officials and donors.

The tumult comes as the university concomitantly faces external boycotts due to its location over the 1949 armistice line, commonly known as the Green Line, including most recently by the U.S. administration.

The university, which has been operating without a president for the past year following the resignation of its former president, Yehuda Shoenfeld, has seen a wave of officials leave, be dismissed or pushed out, including the chairman of the executive committee, the academic secretary and recently, senior vice president Bobby Brown, who was charged with fundraising and international relations.

Despite having passed retirement age, the university’s director general, Yoram Shay, has held his post for the entirety of the institution’s four-decade history. (The university was established as an academic college in 1982, and received university status in 2012.)

“My concern is that the university administration under the current leadership is dysfunctional and lacking in the kind of checks and balances necessary to ensure an efficient and proper administration,” said Marc Zell, who served on the university’s executive committee for a decade and a half until being ousted.

“Historically, the university leadership does not have a thorough understanding of the mechanics and philosophy of fundraising, which resulted in a less than impressive record in donations,” he said.

The largest single donation pledged to the university was $45 million, by the late casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, towards the creation of a medical school a decade ago.

But according to Zell, major donors were not kept informed about the status of the projects that they were supporting, and that the university for years had otherwise been disconnected or aloof from its international supporters, leading him to bring in Brown at the end of 2019 with an eye to fundraising and international development, as boycotts of the university began to grow.

Over the past three years, a new focus was put on donor outreach, friends of Ariel University were established around the globe, while former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was awarded an honorary doctorate on the university’s campus in an event attended by then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and evangelical supporters. 

Brown, who raised about 37 million shekels ($10 million) during his three and a half years in the position (a period which included the coronavirus pandemic) and courted international donors and support for the university, was suddenly fired in June.

His dismissal has set off an open revolt among donors and supporters of the university, including Miriam Adelson, Ambassador Friedman and the various “Friends of Ariel University” abroad, some of whom are threatening to sever ties with the university over the move, JNS has learned.

“As someone who is very big supporter of the existence and ideology of Ariel University and heavily involved in raising of funds on its behalf, it was with dismay that we found out this news, and we believe that this is a step backwards for the university and a big mistake,” said Danny Lamm, who heads the Australian Friends of Ariel University and who previously served as president of the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“We want the university to step back and reconsider this step it has taken, and this is a view shared by other friends of Ariel University,” said Lamm.

According to Dr. Fred Krause, who represents an NGO that supports medical students at Ariel University and who wrote to the director general for an explanation over Brown’s dismissal, “Raising funds at this time is more important than ever.” The administration’s explanation for Brown’s dismissal, he said, was “extremely wanting and inexplicable, and it leaves me flabbergasted and with serious doubt as to future investments in the school because we have no one to connect with.” 

Krause also said he could not understand why vigorous efforts had not been made to find a president over the last year.

In a statement, Ariel University spokeswoman Naama Cohen Yehezkeli said that “the university is prevented from discussing issues related to the employment of workers.” She wrote that “following the end of employment of the previous president, a process was underway to find and select a new president in keeping with the university’s regulations.”

Brown declined to comment for the article.

External boycotts

The turmoil at the university comes amid renewed international boycotts of the institution.

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it was ceasing scientific and technological cooperation with Israeli entities over the 1949 armistice line, rescinding a decision by the Trump administration three years ago which removed geographical limitations as criteria for U.S. government funding.

The university did not speak out against the move, although Brown blasted it publicly as a racist decision which smacked of BDS.

Indeed, at a time of external boycotts, friends of the university—which serves as a voice for conservative thought in a country where the left-wing elites control the institutions of higher education—have been left dumbfounded and troubled by the goings on within the administration.

“It is incredible to see that this university, which serves as a lightning rod for BDS and is privy to boycotts, has this dysfunctional administration regime in place,” concluded Zell.

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