College tries to scrap only Israel study abroad program. President puts a stop to it quick.

The Pitzer College Council—a governing body of faculty and student senators which usually decides college policy—voted Thursday to suspend Pitzer’s only study abroad program in Israel with the University of Haifa, one of the most diverse universities in the Middle East. The motion to suspend the study abroad program was originally passed by faculty last semester in lieu with support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. The motion to suspend the study abroad program was passed with 67 voting yes, 28 voting no, and eight abstaining. The motion would require the approval of Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver. 

However, in a statement Thursday night, Oliver stated his opposition to the motion.

”While my decision not to implement the recommendation is being communicated immediately, it is a decision that I have reached in a careful and deliberate manner. It is informed by multiple conversations over the past several months with our elected representatives on the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), individual faculty, trustees, students, parents and a range of other constituents,” Oliver said.

Oliver stated several reasons for his opposition to the council’s recommendation, one of them being “academic freedom.” 

”The recommendation curtails the academic freedom of those students who wish to study at the University of Haifa. Among Pitzer’s core values is the promotion of intercultural understanding, much of that achieved through our vibrant study abroad program that enables our students to reach their own conclusions about some of the world’s most vexing challenges through on-the-ground, face-to-face, people-to-people experience. The recommendation runs directly counter to Pitzer’s core value of intercultural understanding,” Oliver said. 

Before the official vote on the motion, Professor of Anthropology and History Daniel Segal—who led the faculty vote to ban Pitzer’s study abroad program in Israel, introduced a “friendly amendment” to the motion. The original motion stated that, “Pitzer would suspend the study abroad program in Haifa until (a) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech and (b) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.” The amendment changes this motion by adding a “statement of principle and uniform policy that applies to all of our study abroad programs, without exception”. The amendment also drops the second demand in the original motion for equitable visa granting policies to Palestinian universities. The amendment specifies that Pitzer’s program with Haifa is in violation of this “uniform policy” and thus is to be suspended. 

The amendment to the motion passed, with the final vote being on the amended version

[RELATED: Calif. college bans conservative newspaper from Israel study abroad vote]

In an email explanation sent out to the Pitzer community, Segal stated that “frankly that the Strauss-Segal amended motion that we intend to bring to this College Council meeting represents a considerable compromise for many of us who have worked to pass the existing motion.  But compromise is needed from both sides, if we are to build, as Nigel urged, a motion that gets overwhelming support, rather than just a majority.” He continued, “This amended motion addresses the concern that some outside audiences will misread and/or misrepresent the motion as somehow having a double-standard about the Israeli state.”

During the meeting, there was also a motion to allow the staff council to take part in the vote, with proponents justifying the move because the issue is no longer academic but political—with staff taking the brunt of “nasty phone calls and emails” as a result of the upcoming vote. The staff council was allowed to vote in a motion that passed 84-10. 

Before the vote, one faculty member said “Haifa is one of the most liberal institutions in Israel at this time. Haifa’s president has spoken in Pakistan. If Pitzer abandons its program at a left-wing university, it will be used as fodder by the right-wing president to convince the Israelis to keep him in office.”

Before the vote, Segal shouted “vote yes and suspend Pitzer-Haifa!”

Previously, Pitzer’s student government failed to pass a bill condemning the faculty’s support of suspending the study abroad program before today’s vote by the Pitzer College Council.

The American Jewish Committee released a statement stating that it “condemn[s] the decision of the College Council to end Pitzer’s study abroad program in Haifa. This is 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 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.”

[RELATED: Student gov alleges faculty ‘abuse of power’ on Israel vote]

The AMCHA Initiative, which monitors antisemitism on campus, wrote in a statement that “What happened today at Pitzer is an academic abomination.  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. Fortunately, the buck stops with Pitzer President Oliver who clearly understands this.  As he stated back in November, ‘To deny Pitzer students who want to study at Haifa University the opportunity to study abroad and to enter into dialogue and promote intercultural understanding at the altar of political considerations is anathema to Pitzer’s core values’ and would ‘foolishly alienate Jewish and non-Jewish constituents.’”

Yesterday, in an unprecedented act Pitzer College banned the Independent from reporting on the vote, despite the Independent being a registered student club of the Claremont Colleges—a college consortium that includes Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna, Scripps, and Pitzer Colleges. Today, non-Pitzer Independent staff were allowed to enter, but Oliver repeatedly asked non-Pitzer students to leave midway into the meeting but ignored the presence of non-Pitzer pro-Palestine student organizers.

This article was originally published in The Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper affiliated with the Leadership Institute’s Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished here with permission.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @CmontInd