While the media constantly focuses on alleged irregularities
in the administration of Torah institutions, reports that
turn out to be unfounded and inciting, a highly critical
report on corruption at Israeli universities received minimal
coverage in the mainstream press.
According to a report, State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg
released last week, the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv
University and the Weizmann Institute of Science were found
to have serious flaws and irregularities in their account
books from 2001 to 2003.
Degel HaTorah General Secretary MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni sent a
letter to the acting president of the Press Council to
complain about the lack of reportage on the grave figures.
"To the best of my knowledge this report was not published in
the mainstream press, not even in brief, while with regard to
their counterparts -- institutions of higher Torah learning,
i.e. the yeshivas -- any report or finding of vastly lesser
significance receives front-page headlines.
"In a state where one of its principles is freedom of
information and the right of the public to know without press
censorship based on political views, is it desirable for such
a phenomenon to take place?" wrote Rabbi Gafni, demanding
that his complaint come before the Press Council's
Presidential Board and its Court of Ethics.
According to the Comptroller's report, which covered the
management of research and development (R&D) projects funded
by external bodies and the activity of the National Science
Foundation, the leading provider of research grants, the
three universities that were audited transferred surplus
income that did not need to be spent on the original research
into private research accounts of various researchers. These
surplus funds accumulated regularly because costs that really
were classified as regular expenses and really were funded
out of the regular budget were also listed as expenses that
were associated with the research that was being funded by
organizations providing financial support. These surpluses
were not reported to the sources of funding. Had the
respective universities returned the surplus funds to the
financial supporters, more grants would have been available
for other researchers.
Even the supervision of research expenses was found to be
faulty. At the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University,
rather than keeping records of the research assistants'
original work hours, reports were filled out based on
declarations of the researcher, made long after the work was
completed, just before the submission deadline. Such an
arrangement is an obvious temptation for corruption, though
there was no definite indication that any occurred. In
addition, expenses such as reimbursements for researchers'
car expenses, office renovations, business-management
courses, etc., were covered using monies from the research
The Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute reported the
same expenses to two different underwriters, in 13 cases. In
doing so, the universities deviated from the terms of their
contracts with the funding providers regarding research costs
that had not been approved. The Comptroller lodged the most
severe criticism against the Weizmann Institute for keeping
two sets of books, one with the researcher and another with
the funding provider.
At the Hebrew University, some 1,250 research studies are
conducted annually at a total cost of NIS 288 million ($63
million). At Tel Aviv University, some 1,350 studies are
conducted at a cost of NIS 144 million ($32 million) and at
the Weizmann Institute, some 1,100 studies are conducted at a
cost of NIS 190 million ($42 million).
The Comptroller found that the universities submitted
explicitly false reports to public bodies that provide them
funding, reporting that all of the funds had been expended
and then surreptitiously transferring the remaining funds to
their workers' research accounts.
As a result of the various accounting irregularities, "the
universities and researchers received from the funding
providers monies for which they were not eligible according
to the funding providers' guidelines or the contracts signed
with them," writes the Comptroller. "The principle of
academic freedom and scientific research cannot serve as
justification for deviating from standard accounting
regulations and proper disclosure."
An audit conducted by the National Science Foundation
revealed that the Foundation did not maintain sufficient
supervision of financial management of the grants it
provides. Even after the Foundation received information from
the State Comptroller on the overlapping funding at the
universities, it did not check whether grant recipients were
indeed eligible for the funds they received.
In conclusion, the report says the universities must disclose
more to the financial supporters, manage the research budget
and report on expenses, based on accepted accounting
guidelines, while increasing supervision and control over the
use of research funds.
Following the release of the original Comptroller's report,
the Council for Higher Education's Budget Planning Committee
and the Board of University Chancellors set up a committee to
formulate uniform regulations and guidelines and to advance
the changes needed to rectify the defects. The committee
submitted its recommendations in December 2003. The Budget
Planning Committee adopted the regulations and directed the
universities to implement them immediately. The universities
agreed to the recommendations in principle and intend to
update the regulations within the next few months, says the
In reaction to the State Comptroller's report, MK Rabbi Moshe
Gafni said he would request that the Knesset be specially
convened during the summer break, to discuss the scandal at
the universities. He also asked Attorney General Mani Mazuz
to look into the matter.
Rabbi Gafni said government ministries, including the Justice
and Education Ministries, have long known that billions of
shekels are transferred to the universities without any
supervision or control, calling it an open secret. "I raised
this issue several times in the Education Committee, but
there were those who silenced the matter.
"We live in "two different countries," he says. "One nation
embitters the lives of yeshiva managers with a system of
supervision and control, scrupulously checking every
student's identification card and then leaking to the press
that `there are dishonest institutions' although nobody ever
uncovered irregularities at the yeshivas. In the second
nation, billions of shekels are funneled to institutions of
higher education without any supervision or control, while
university administrators spend enormous sums on inflated
salaries, benefits, sabbatical years abroad, cars and lavish
"There is no equality in the State of Israel," he says. "Only
NIS 850 million ($190 million) was cut from higher education
out of its enormous budget of NIS 6.4 billion ($1.4 billion).
The entire yeshiva budget now comes to no more than NIS 500
million ($110 million), though the number of students is the
Rabbi Gafni demanded that the Attorney General apply the same
stringent supervision found at Torah institutions to the
universities and implement the same criteria.
MK Rabbi Yisroel Eichler sent the Attorney General a similar
request. "I have never been able to comprehend why nobody at
universities checks how many students arrive at the science
`kollel,' what time they arrive and how many hours they
study per week. Neither do I understand the enormous gap
between the wages of lecturers and professors and the measly
allowance given to maggidei shiur and roshei yeshivos
of great stature in Torah. However, this is not a legal
matter but a political and social one.
"I hereby request that the same criteria and fences to
protect the public purse be implemented at the universities
and the various kinds of secular cultural institutions. I
would be interested to know how many cultural institutions
would meet these criteria."