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Pitzer President Rejects College Council Vote to Suspend Israel Study Abroad

March 15, 2019
 
 

Members of the College Council at Pitzer College voted Thursday to recommend suspending the college’s study abroad program, but Pitzer president Melvin L. Oliver said that he would not put the recommendation in place.

Members of the council, which is made up of faculty, students and staff and is Pitzer's main legislative body for shared governance, voted 67 to 28 with eight abstentions in favor of suspending the study abroad program at the University of Haifa. Faculty at Pitzer had previously voted in favor of suspending the Israel study abroad program.

Supporters of the suspension of the Israel study abroad program frame the action in terms of supporting Palestinian rights and protesting Israeli visa and immigration policies that would restrict the ability of all students to study abroad at the country's universities.

But in a statement explaining why he would not implement the recommendation Oliver argued it was against the best interests of the college. He cited a number of reasons in his statement, including that the recommendation to suspend the Israel study abroad program "curtails the academic freedom of those students who wish to study at the University of Haifa." He said that by putting in place an academic boycott of Israel, the recommendation "sets us on a path away from the free exchange of ideas, a direction which ultimately destroys the academy’s ability to fulfill our educational mission."

Oliver also characterized the recommendation of the College Council as "prejudiced" in that it singles out Israel. "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," he wrote.

One of the main proponents of suspending the Israel study abroad program, Daniel A. Segal, the Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and a professor of history, said in a statement that Oliver's veto of the 67-to-28 vote "shows a failure to appreciate that Palestinians are our fellow human beings, and a contempt for the college’s democratic process."

"Because of the divisiveness of the president’s actions and his betrayal of the college’s core values, the president is doing grievous damage to the college I love and have served for 32 years," Segal said. "And more importantly, he is doing grievous damage to the most plausible path to justice and a positive peace for all our sisters and brothers in Israel and Palestine alike."

Study abroad programs have increasingly become a target of the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The Pitzer vote follows two widely reported instances last fall in which a professor and graduate instructor at the University of Michigan each cited their support for the academic boycott in declining to write letters of recommendation for students seeking to study abroad at Israeli universities.

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