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March 29, 2019 3:56 pm

Pitzer College Students Look to Oust President Over Refusal to Cut Ties With Haifa University

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The entrance to Pitzer College. Photo: Pitzer College via Facebook.

The president of Pitzer College is facing calls for resignation by student leaders over his decision to maintain the California school’s relationship with the University of Haifa, despite calls to end it by faculty and students opposed to Israeli policy.

President Melvin Oliver vetoed a resolution passed earlier this month by the Pitzer College Council — which includes faculty, students, and staff — to suspend its only study abroad program in Israel.

In a message announcing his decision, Oliver pointed out the lack of consensus behind the politically-driven measure, the “harm” it would have on the academic freedom of individual students and “the free exchange of ideas,” and the prejudiced stance it took by singling out Israel while maintaining cooperation with universities in other nations.

The measure was introduced by Professor Daniel Segal, who has a record of supporting the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which calls for an end to all academic cooperation with universities in the Jewish state.

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Anger over Oliver’s decision has led members of the Pitzer Student Senate to draft a resolution declaring no confidence in the president, and — if “Oliver does not retract his anti-democratic decision by the end of the day on April 11, 2019” — urging his immediate resignation or removal from office, the student-run Claremont Independent reported.

The draft resolution, which has nine authors and dozens of sponsors, says it sought “to ensure that Pitzer College consistently adheres to the democratic spirit inherent in the college’s shared governance process without making exceptions for votes related to Israel & Palestine.”

“[T]he President’s dismissal strongly articulates the idea that the College’s faculty offers arguments without merit, therefore potentially impacting the College’s fundraising ability,” the draft resolution read.

It also faulted the college administration for overturning “a 2017 Senate amendment regulating Senate discretionary funds in the manner called for by the [BDS] Movement, the first time the College nullified a Student Senate decision in the College’s history.”

As The Algemeiner reported, Jewish students felt “ambushed” by the vote on the 2017 amendment, particularly given that many concerned parties were off campus to observe the holidays of Passover and Easter.

The draft resolution also accused Pitzer’s administration of failing to condemn “posters trafficking in anti-Muslim tropes, posted in Atherton Hall, as ‘racist,'” and said Oliver’s office failed to issue a community statement following the shooting attacks in Christchurch.

The Senate effort is part of a broader student backlash that has also included derogatory language targeting Oliver on social media, the Independent reported. Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine, which serves Pitzer as part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, responded to the veto by launching launched a “Palestine Freedom Week” on Monday — a “marathon of events and programming” that will last for two weeks. Events include screenings of the film, “Occupation of the American Mind,” and a food appropriation workshop titled, “The Theft of Hummus.”

On Friday, the editorial board of the Independent expressed support for Oliver’s decision, calling the exchange program with Haifa University — and the opportunity it brings to interact with people directly affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — “an immensely valuable one.”

“He has made a bold stand in defense of intellectual diversity,” it wrote. “It is in the interests of Pitzer College and the Israel-Palestine situation alike that his choice remain unaltered.”

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