As Haifa elects first woman mayor, a university vows to continue city’s progress

With municipalities across Israel holding elections last week and midterm elections this week in the US, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the deep and enduring impact which elected office-holders can make on local communities, their residents, and their major institutions.

In any city or region, municipal governments and the area’s institutions have a crucial opportunity to work together to make improvements in their community. We often see this through local chambers of commerce that promote networking and aim to advance the interests of businesses.

A prime example is Baltimore’s revitalization campaign, which has combined government, academia, and private industry in an effort to attract 22,000 new residents (including 10,000 families) to the city by 2021. And in Pennsylvania, Allentown’s Neighborhood Revitalization District earned this year’s Urban Land Institute Global Award of Excellence for spurring a groundswell of investment in downtown infrastructure and attracting high-profile businesses to set up shop in the city.

Seamless municipal-institutional collaboration has also been a hallmark of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, in recent years. Haifa’s downtown revival—with a trendy food and shopping scene as well as vibrant nightlife supplanting decades of economic decline and high crime rates—has been accompanied by the municipality’s strong support for institutions like University of Haifa. In particular, the Haifa City Council allocated of the use of the Palmer Street building to the University for our forthcoming data science school, while students studying at the new Lorry I. Lokey City Campus downtown will receive housing provided by the municipality.

After 15 years of close collaboration with Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, our university is looking forward to a similarly symbiotic relationship with newly elected Einat Kalisch Rotem, who will be Haifa’s first woman mayor.

Under our new mayor, University of Haifa will continue to advance its unique multiversity vision as a major driver of progress in the city and region. As a multi-campus institution with locations around Haifa and throughout northern Israel, we are easing access for students and adding vitality to the area. In essence, our goal is the same as the municipality’s objective: to bring more jobs, stability, and security to Haifa.

On Oct. 24, we unveiled the Lokey City Campus, which initially will be comprised of four buildings located throughout the Port of Haifa, including the first-of-its-kind data science school and the new home of the Tauber Bioinformations Research Center. The multiversity concept is what inspired American philanthropist Lorry I. Lokey to donate $10 million to the University to fund the downtown campus. University of Haifa was also among the recipients of an $18 million donation from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to build the 20-story Helmsley Health Discovery Tower in partnership with Rambam Hospital.

These donations are part of a broader wave of $45 million in philanthropy from U.S. donors since the middle of last year, and we could not achieve this degree of progress or implement our ambitious institutional mission without the fertile environment afforded to us by the Haifa Municipality.

At the same time, we feel a special sense of pride that Haifa has made history as the first of Israel’s three largest cities to elect a woman mayor. This development is actually not a major surprise given the diverse nature of the city, which works in tandem with the University’s embrace of diversity. Our transformative model for diversity in higher education features a thriving population of Arab students—35 percent of the total student body, exceeding the already significant 20 percent Arab population share of Israel and debunking the claim that Israeli society marginalizes Arabs or any other minority sector. University of Haifa also serves a greater number of both recent immigrants and first-generation university attendees than any other Israeli university, and offers more than 20 international degree programs taught in English.

We consider it a badge of honor to produce alumni like political science scholar Lian Ryan-Hume, the first Arab-Israeli recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, who works to raise awareness about minority groups in Israel and to address the challenges facing Arab women around the world. Other trailblazers in our university’s community include Prof. Mouna Maroun, head of the Laboratory for Neurobiology of Emotions, who has been named by the business publication TheMarker as one of the top 20 women changing the face of Israeli medicine today; Elka Nir, CEO of Carmel Innovations, which established a fund that accelerates the maturation of start-ups and innovative projects that are based on University of Haifa’s intellectual property; and Prof. Noya Rimalt, a legal scholar who founded the first civil rights legal clinic in Israel and regularly advises the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.

We welcome mayor-elect Rotem as the newest member of this sorority of Haifa-based women who are leaders in their fields and are working to change their city, their country, and the world for the better.

As Haifa enters this new era, the University is eager to continue partnering with the municipality to jointly uplift our city and region, providing an inspirational model for other communities in Israel and worldwide.

About the Author
Karen L. Berman is CEO of the American Society of the University of Haifa.