Student gov alleges faculty 'abuse of power' on Israel vote

Faculty members at Pitzer College in California voted on and passed two motions earlier in November concerning the college’s relationship with Israel, including one to suspend its study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel. The other motion passed was a dissention from the decision of the college’s Board of Trustees to nullify a Pitzer Student Senate resolution, which was aimed at adopting aspects of the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement.

The motion concerning the college’s study abroad program in Israel passed, calling for the “suspension of the College’s exchange with Haifa University, 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.”

A Pitzer Student Senate resolution, 55-R-04, “A Resolution Denouncing Action by the Faculty That Eliminates Student Learning Opportunities,” has been introduced to the student senate and will be brought before the student council on Nov. 29. The resolution asserts the faculty motion was about “forwarding a political agenda” and “eliminates student learning opportunities.”

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“[O]nly the University of Haifa study abroad program was called into question without the same standards of review being applied to any other study abroad program,” the resolution added, stating that the decision to “act unilaterally without regard to Student Voice…constitutes an abuse of power and rebuke of Pitzer’s tradition of shared governance.”

The faculty motion passed concerning BDS was a dissention from the decision of Pitzer College President, Melvin Oliver, and Pitzer College Trustees to nullify Pitzer Student Senate resolution 53-B-20. This resolution adopted aspects of the BDS movement, defined as “a global campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel” until it meets what the campaign describes as “[Israel’s] obligations under international law“, defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.”

Specifically, 53-B-20 listed five companies that Pitzer would boycott: Caterpillar, SodaStream, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, Hewlett-Packard and Sabra. The resolution was controversial at the time of passing as the vote was held during Passover, an action that Jewish student leaders claimed at the time was intended to suppress their voice.

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In the motion passed, the faculty stated “[i]ndependent of agreeing or disagreeing with that resolution, we the Faculty object to the president and trustees singling out this one issue as a basis for not accepting the Senate’s longstanding autonomy in controlling its funds, in the context of Pitzer’s governance system.”

According to a representative of Pitzer College, the motion concerning the Board of Trustees' nullification of Pitzer Student Senate resolution 53-B-20 “was communicated to the Board [of Trustees],” and the motion concerning the suspension of the study abroad program in Israel “is being deliberated within Pitzer’s shared governance process.”

The Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (Claremont SJP) received news of the two motions passage “with great joy.” Claremont SJP called the study abroad program at Haifa “greatly problematic” and further stated, “it is imperative that the colleges withdraw this program from their study abroad curriculums.”

Claremont SJP further noted “the faculty of the college passed their two motions following a multi-year process in which Pitzer students were actively brought into, and widely participated in, an inclusive and democratic conversation on the College’s relationship to Palestine-Israel. Claims to the contrary are misleading not factual.”

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The group concluded that “[o]n November 8th, the faculty of the college decided to listen to student voices – to support the call for justice, respect and dignified life through Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement…The faculty motions are two important and crucial milestones in the path towards justice for Palestinians, and we hope that the Claremont student populace supports them with the utmost enthusiasm.”

A petition in support of the Haifa study abroad program has also been started “as strong supporters of free speech and academic freedom on campus, we are deeply troubled by the recent vote by members of the Pitzer Faculty calling for an end to the College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa.”

The petition called for the Pitzer Student Senate to adopt Resolution 55-R-04, and issue a statement reaffirming Pitzer College’s support for the University of Haifa study abroad program.

Pitzer College is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, which also includes Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College, and Scripps College. 

The AMCHA Initiative, which describes itself as a "non-profit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America," reacted to the news in a statement, saying that "the Pitzer faculty’s attempt to implement academic BDS on campus and subvert the educational opportunities and academic freedom of their own U.S. colleagues and students is absolutely reprehensible." 

"These Pitzer faculty members have abrogated their most basic professional responsibility – to promote the academic welfare of their students...President Oliver must act immediately to address this egregious faculty behavior that subverts the educational opportunities and violates the academic freedom of his students," AMCHA said. 

Joseph Dickson, a spokesman for Pitzer College, told Campus Reform on Tuesday that the motion was one part of the "shared governance process." Dickson declined to comment further on the matter. The Pitzer College study abroad office referred Campus Reform to university communications and then hung up the phone. 

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