Reinstatement of Psychometric Exam Discriminates against Arab Students in University Admissions


On 27 November 2003, Ha'aretz published a news article concerning changes in university admissions policies, specifically to reinstate the psychometric exam as a criterion for admissions. The article's author characterized the policy decision - made by the Committee of the Heads of Israeli Universities, which is comprised of the Presidents of Israel's universities - as a thinly veiled effort to limit the number of Arab students admitted. Adalah Attorney Marwan Dalal sent a letter to Education Minister Limor Livnat, the Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee Ilan Shalgi, and the members of the Committee of the Heads of Universities, concerning this policy. The text of the letter follows.

2 December 2003


Ms. Limor Livnat, Minister of Education, 34 Shivtai Israel, Jerusalem
Mr. Ilan Shalgi, Chairman, Knesset Education Committee, The Knesset, Jerusalem


The Committee of the Heads of Universities
Professor Yitzhak Apeloig - President, The Technion
Professor Menachem Magidor - President, Hebrew University
Professor Itamar Rabinovich - President, Tel Aviv University
Professor Yehuda Hayuth - President, Haifa University
Professor Moshe Kaveh - President, Bar Ilan University
Professor Avishay Braverman - President, Ben Gurion University

Subject: Extraneous Considerations in Admitting University Students - The Psychometric Exam

Pursuant to the newspaper article published in Ha'aretz on 27 November 2003, "Universities return to aptitude exams to keep Arabs out," by Relly Sa'ar, I hereby approach you as follows:

The universities did little yesterday to conceal the fact that admissions policies are being altered to benefit Jewish candidates. "Admissions policies based on [high school] grades do not make studies more accessible to [Jewish] students from the periphery. The opposite is true," declared the committee of university heads. According the committee, "28% of the population of periphery town registered students were admitted based on their matriculation exams, as opposed to 39% of the other population [namely Arab students]. Out of those admitted based on their matriculation exams, 46% of the weak population applicants received higher matriculation exam grades than their psychometric score, as opposed to 71% of the other population." In its statement, the committee was careful not to use the words "Jews" and "Arabs," but its intention was clear. In a euphemistic idiom, it wrote: "since the number of places available in university enrollment has not risen the acceptance of one population [that is, the Arab students, R.S.] nudges out another population [Jews, R.S].

The Legal Status of the University

The Psychometric Exam - An Extraneous Criterion

The Social Status of the University

  1. In the above-mentioned article, the heads of the universities express the position, through the Committee of the Heads of Universities, that pursuant to the cancellation of the psychometric exam as a criterion for admission, the number of Arab students in certain faculties at these universities has risen. According to the heads of the universities, this increase in the number of Arab students is not only a flaw, but should also be changed, meaning, decreasing the number of Arab students in the university in general, and in those faculties, in particular.
  2. The above-mentioned article indicates the resentment of the Committee of the Heads of the Universities concerning the rise of the number of the Arab students in the universities:
  3. It should be mentioned that it is difficult to understand why the Committee of the Heads of the Universities would act to benefit a particular segment of the population regarding obtaining higher education in the university, namely "the periphery community," and disregard other communities in society, mainly the high school graduates of the Arab minority.
  4. The same heads of the universities claim that the cancellation of the psychometric exam was aimed at benefiting the public from the "periphery," despite the 12 December 2001 recommendation of a special committee of the Council for Higher Education - The Sub-Committee of Planning and Development for the Advancement of Higher Education of the Arab Population. The recommendation indicates the problematic of the psychometric exam being used as a tool to project future academic success, both for Arab high school graduates as well as high school students from the other "periphery."
  5. There are two sets of legal norms that bind the universities in Israel. The first is the Council for Higher Education Law - 1958, and the rules pursuant to this law. The second is constitutional and specifically, the rules of administrative law that are valid vis-a-vis the conduct of the universities, particularly toward prospective students. Based on the nature of this conduct, it is also important to note that a large portion of Israeli university budgets are paid for by the public.
    Civil Appeal 294/91, Kadisha Company Ghsh'a "Jerusalem Community" v. Kastenbaum, 42 PD II 464.
    Civil Appeal 3414/93, Onn v. Diamond Exchange (1965) Ltd., 39 PD III 196, 203-208.
  6. Based on this legal status and the duties that bind the universities as a result of this validity, every university in Israel must consider its policies and take its decisions based on equality and fairness, with no arbitrariness or prejudice, and without extraneous considerations.
  7. According to the information before us, it is not difficult to ascertain that employing the psychometric exam as a condition for admission to university amounts to an extraneous consideration, which aims to block the education of many potential Arab students.
  8. The purpose enshrined in the heads of the universities' wish is: the fewer the Arab students, the better. This purpose is not legitimate and it is illegal, as is the means chosen by the heads of the universities in the country to institute this policy - the psychometric exam.
  9. The problematic of the psychometric exam, therefore, is revealed on two levels. The first level is professional, meaning that the exam does not fulfill its declared purpose among Arab students and others in projecting future academic success, as the Sub-Committee clarified in its detailed report. The second level of the problematic is legal. The goal of the psychometric exam, as it is revealed in an unquestioned manner, is to limit the number of Arab students in Israeli universities.
  10. Each level of the problematic revealed by the psychometric exam should have mandated the heads of the universities not only to consider its existence but also to cancel it.
  11. The intellectual question that is occupying the honorable professors, members of the Committee of the Heads of Universities, is the "demographic question." Such a question - aside from the tedium that it engenders - bis also unsuccessful in disconnecting itself from its racist essence. Nor can this question transcend its racist limitations concerning its inter-connection with the university's role to produce knowledge, specifically by way of critiquing existing knowledge, rather than simply reproducing it.
  12. The role of the university, both as an institution and as an idea, is to deal with questions that transcend the identity of its student body. The policy decision by the university, that institutes selection based on identity in a manner that is disconnected from fairness and equality considerations, is a mere non-sophisticated instrument in the hands of an establishment that inflames hostility instead of openness, ignorance instead of knowledge, one-dimensionality instead of multiculturalism, the maintenance of an intellectual timidity instead of free and open thought, and degeneration instead of progression.
  13. In 1854, John Henry Newman wrote about the idea of the university. Newman was a graduate of Oxford, and he also taught at the same university. After an intellectual-religious dispute, the university banned him. John Henry Newman wrote, inter alia, about the elementary duty of the university to be a normatively open place:
    If I were asked to describe as briefly and popularly as I could, what a University was, I should draw my answer from its ancient designation of a Studium Generale, or "School of Universal Learning." This description implies the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot; - from all parts; else, how will you find professors and students for every department of knowledge? and in one spot; else, how can there be any school at all? Accordingly, in its simple and rudimental form, it is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter. Many things are requisite to complete and satisfy the idea embodied in this description; but such as this a University seems to be in its essence, a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent of country.
  14. Thus, we can only learn from the words spoken by the late Professor Edward Said at a 28 June 2000 commencement speech. Said emphasized the duty of a student, which also applies to a professor, to always maintain a sense of skepticism and a readiness for the challenges confronting him:
    I would say first of all to think critically, not to accept easy answers, nor to live within the confines of your expertise. Most of all that means trying always to remain in a position of the curious and skeptical consciousness, always on the alert and receptive to the challenges to you...
  15. Based on all of the above, I ask you not to include the psychometric exam as a condition for admitting students to the university.

I would appreciate your prompt response.


Marwan Dalal, Advocate

Copy: Members of the Council for Higher Education