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Pitzer College president rejects 'prejudiced' vote to drop study-abroad program in Israel

The Washington Times

Valerie Richardson

March 15, 2019

Pitzer College president rejects 'prejudiced' vote to drop study-abroad program in Israel

President Melvin L. Oliver refuses to implement Pitzer College Council's recommendation

Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver refused Thursday to drop the school’s study-abroad program in Israel, rejecting a recommendation by the college council within hours of its vote.

“By singling out Israel, the recommendation itself is prejudiced,” Mr. Oliver said in a statement. “We do not solve one injustice by committing another. If implemented, the recommendation would unnecessarily alienate a large cross-section of the College’s constituencies. The reputational harm to the College would be irreparable and as president of this institution, I cannot permit that to happen.”

His statement came shortly after the Pitzer College Council, a governing body of faculty and student senators, voted 67-28, with eight abstaining, to suspend the program at the left-tilting University of Haifa, located atop Mount Carmel, according to the Claremont Independent.

.@pitzercollege’s president will go against the College Council’s recommendation to suspend study abroad in Israel with @HaifaUniversity. Claremont’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter is already protesting and circulating a petition. #Israel

— ClaremontIndependent (@CmontInd) March 15, 2019

@RashidaTlaib is in with #SuspendPitzerHaifa. @pitzercollege @caliactivist @sareemakdisi @YousefMunayyer @jjz1600 @RepJudyChu @jvplive @theIMEU

— Daniel A. Segal (@DanSegal14) March 11, 2019

The response was swift. Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine, which had called for ending the study-abroad program, posted a petition on Facebook signed by students and faculty calling for Mr. Oliver to “honor shared governance.”

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“Students, faculty, and staff alike should be outraged at this flagrant disregard for Pitzer’s values and democratic process,” the petition said. “We will continue to organize to suspend Haifa and demand that President Oliver reverse his decision.”

In his statement, Mr. Oliver said the recommendation would cause Pitzer “to take an unavoidably political position on one of the most controversial issues of our time.”

“The College’s mission is first and foremost to educate our students,” Mr. Oliver said. “Social responsibility is a core value of the College and we hope social justice becomes the life’s mission of many of our graduates and a guiding principle for all our students and alumni. But social justice is not, and in itself cannot be, the mission of the College, or our mission would become political and not educational.”

Max Samarov, executive director of research & strategy at the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, praised Mr. Oliver’s decision for ensuring that “Pitzer will not fall on the wrong side of history.”

“If this motion were truly about ethical standards for study abroad, they would have started with Pitzer programs in Lebanon and China rather than targeting one of the most diverse universities in the only functioning democracy in the Middle East,” Mr. Samarov said. “In reality, this vote was designed to push a narrow anti-Israel agenda that harms students, violates academic freedom, and fuels more conflict and injustice in the Middle East.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said Pitzer, located in Claremont, California, would have been the first U.S. college to end its Israel study-abroad program as part of an academic boycott.

“What happened today at Pitzer is an academic abomination,” AMCHA said in a statement after the vote. “Prioritizing politics over students is reprehensible, but sadly, the Pitzer College Council did just that. Academic boycotts violate the rights of students and faculty on U.S. campuses, and this precedent-setting vote is frightening.”

Supporting the boycott was Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, who posed with a #SuspendPitzerHaifa message in a tweet posted Monday by Pitzer anthropology and history professor Daniel A. Segal, a leader of the campaign to suspend the study-abroad program.

The council approved Mr. Segal’s amendment to the proposed policy stating that the suspension would remain in effect until “the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech,” and “the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”

The American Jewish Committee blasted the faculty-student recommendation as “an outrageous attack on academic freedom.”

“The decision threatens to allow a dangerous precedent — that it is acceptable for outside political influence to limit student experiences,” the AJC said in a statement. “The responsibilities of a leading university include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible — not politicizing academia. We urge President Oliver to overturn this misguided action by the College Council.”

The move to suspend the University of Haifa program came after the college’s board of trustees voted last year to nullify a student government resolution to adopt the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Pitzer belongs to the five-college Claremont consortium, the others being Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Scripps and Harvey Mudd.

Read the full article HERE


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