U.S. real estate mogul plans new medical school, college town near Safed
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent
American real estate mogul Bob Stark is heading an investor group that plans to invest $3-4 billion in a new university town in the Safed area that will include a medical school likely to be affiliated with Bar-Ilan University.
The town is slated as well to have housing, shopping centers and cultural institutions, Stark told Haaretz Sunday. The medical school is to be funded by a donation of some $500 million, to be provided by Stark and others, which would make such a project the first instance in Israeli academia of a donation being made as part of a business enterprise.
The Council for Higher Education decided in July on the establishment of a new medical school, Israel's fifth, in light of an anticipated shortage of doctors in Israel by 2015. A committee appointed by the council is supposed to decide which university will host the medical school; Haifa University is the only one other than Bar-Ilan that does not currently have one. The deans of the existing medical schools have expressed their opposition to the opening of a new one, which they say would be wasteful, since it is possible to increase the number of medical students at existing institutions.
When asked whether his donation in contingent on Bar-Ilan's being chosen for the medical school, Stark said he did not want to get into the issue, but added that all the signs were pointing to Bar-Ilan being the university that should and will be chosen.
Bar-Ilan president Prof. Moshe Kaveh told Haaretz Sunday that the establishment of a medical school depends on a "dramatic upgrade" of Galilee hospitals to bring them up to the level of university hospitals, so that future doctors can train at them. An estimated $500 million in donations is required to improve the hospitals and build the medical school, a medical research center and student dormitories. The money will be supplied by donors recruited by Kaveh and Stark, the president and chief executive officer of the Ohio-based real-estate developer Stark Enterprises, and an observant Jew.
The 3,400-dunam university town is slated to include residential buildings for faculty, cultural institutions, two shopping centers and a hesder yeshiva, which combines military service with Torah study. The creation of the town is necessary in order to attract high-level faculty, Kaveh said.
Bar-Ilan officials said Stark and the other investors involved in the project represent a new brand of donors, who combine philanthropy with financial investment. Kaveh explained the interaction, saying: "A large portion of the profits will go toward making the cultural and medical institutions in the city productive. Certain entrepreneurs will also get returns. This is a financial investment that repays itself, and the first profits will go toward philanthropic goals, in order to help the city develop." The donation to the medical school, said Kaveh, is "pure philanthropy."
Bar-Ilan officials said that despite Stark's contribution, the medical school will be independent and will enjoy full academic and administrative freedom. The school will be public, and its operating costs are expected to be funded by the government.
However, even though the higher education council has decided to establish a new medical school, government funding is not yet guaranteed. A council official said it was clear that the school could not be established under the council's current budget, which he said is not sufficient to meet the needs of existing institutions.