"A Slap in the Face": Pitzer Trustees Toss Out Senate BDS Amendment

Pitzer College's Board of Trustees struck language from a Student Senate bill Friday that barred the use of student activities funds to buy products from certain organizations associated with Israel, including Sabra, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard.

An amendment to the Senate's Budget Committee Bylaws, the bill passed 22-0 with two abstentions on April 16 and prohibited "payment[s] on goods or services from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories." It was further amended in Bill 53-B-20 on April 30 to delineate the specific barred companies and to change the word "unethical" to "illegal," passing 25-9.

In nullifying this language, the Board forbade the Senate from taking a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in regards to funding.

Because the Senate's budget is composed entirely of activities fees paid by all students, "the Board expects the Student Senate to remain neutral in determining the organizations it recognizes and funds, the amount of funding allocated to each organization, and any restrictions imposed on such funds," wrote board chair Shahan Soghikian PZ '80 in an email to students.

"The Israeli - Palestinian conflict is among the most complex, emotional and divisive issues of our time, and is one on which the College has not taken a position," he wrote. "The Board will not permit College assets to be restricted in order to endorse a point of view that is not the College's and that, in the Board's opinion, does not align with Pitzer's commitment to inclusion and respect for diverse viewpoints."

The Senate's executive board voiced concerns about the trustee decision in an email to students Monday.

"While we realize that this particular provision in the Budget Bylaws is controversial, it was nevertheless enacted by students through their democratically elected representatives," they wrote. "It is critical that the governing bodies on our campus...respect the rights of students to make and enforce their own regulations with regard to student organizations."

Simone Bishara PZ '18, who introduced the now nullified language to the bill, wrote in a message to TSL that she was "disappointed" in the trustees' decision.

"I believe the decision is antithetical to Pitzer's core values [and] negates our principle of shared governance," Bishara wrote. "The student body definitely deserves better than a retroactive email over the summer and looking into the future I hope we can better hold the Board of Trustees accountable."

The Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance released a statement applauding the rescindment of the "hateful and divisive measure" and noting that the original amendment was passed "hastily" with no advance notice during Easter Sunday and Passover.

Deena Woloshin SC '18, president of the CPIA, told TSL "the message from the board of trustees shows students both at Pitzer and the consortium that they're in support of open dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wish for all students' voices to be heard."

Former Senate president Josue Pasillas PZ '17 said it was unprecendented for the Board of Trustees to nullify a Senate policy.

"The recent action by the Board of Trustees is a breach of our shared governance tradition and a slap in the face to student leaders who take the core value of 'student engagement' to heart," he wrote in a message to TSL.

Current Senate president Hajar Hammado PZ '18 could not be reached for further comment.

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement charging that the nullification “reveals the hypocrisy of an institution that claims to value ‘social justice’ and ‘social responsibility’, yet arbitrarily quashes the student body’s support for Palestinians living under occupation.”

Priya Prabhakar SC '20, a member of SJP, said the ruling is "hypocritical" for a school committed to social justice.

"I fully support the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people," said Prabhakar, using another name for the funding ban, "and consider this nullification to be an incredibly harmful manipulation tactic on behalf of Pitzer's board of trustees."

Francis Ryu PZ '17 wrote in an email to the student body that he agrees with the trustees' decision due to the reasoning stated in the statement to students.

"It is not right nor is it professional to curtail and to limit the funds that [are] meant for 'all' students, as the funds should be for those who believe different ideologies as well, and not towards a select few," he said. "I believe that the article administered by the Senate from last year was a discrimination policy."

He also addressed the Senate Executive Board's concern that the nullification shifts power away from students.

"I believe what the Board of Trustees were trying to intend through their explanation was that the power of the student voice is diminished if the decisions enacted by the students are detrimental to the core of the community, which the [rescinded article] was," he said. 

Members of J Street U, an organization at the Claremont Colleges devoted to "peace, security and social justice in Israel, the future state of Palestine and across the Middle East," recently argued against the boycott of businesses associated wiith Israel in a guest article.