Pitzer Senate demands school president reverse Haifa veto, rejects calls for his resignation

A large group of college students crowded in a Pitzer meeting room and cheer in reaction to the Pitzer College Council's decision to suspend the college's study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel.
Students cheer the Pitzer College Council’s decision to suspend the college’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Pitzer College’s Student Senate approved a resolution Sunday calling on Pitzer President Melvin Oliver to reverse his veto of the College Council’s March vote to suspend the school’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel. However, students senators stopped short of passing a no confidence vote that would have called on Oliver to resign.

Oliver shocked the 5C community when he released his decision just three hours after the College Council, a governance body of faculty, students and staff, voted 67-28 on March 14 to suspend the controversial program, concluding months of heated debate.

A proposed vote of no confidence in Oliver, which called for his resignation or removal if he did not retract his “anti-democratic decision” by Thursday, was voted down 20-12.

Immediately after, senators unanimously passed a separate resolution condemning Oliver’s veto and demanding its reversal.

“We find that the decisive margins of approval at this College Council rule out the possibility that President Oliver genuinely engaged with many portions of the community on this issue,” the resolution said.

Senate President Shivani Kavuluru PZ ’19, an author of the resolution that passed, said Oliver’s letter announcing his veto and a conversation she had with Harold Brown, the chair of Pitzer’s board of trustees, made her think Oliver had made his decision and written the letter well in advance of the College Council meeting.

“Why would faculty and staff take time out of their lives in a meeting if the president isn’t even going to acknowledge the fact that discussion and really important changing of opinions happened at that meeting?” Kavuluru asked at a March 31 emergency senate meeting to introduce the two resolutions.

The no confidence motion had been supported in part by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. A no confidence vote would have served as a symbolic measure with the intent of “placing concrete pressure on the president to backpedal,” SJP member Shay Lari-Hosain PZ ’22 said at the March 31 senate meeting.

Some senators expressed sympathy for the resolution’s intentions but had doubts about the appropriateness of a no confidence vote.

Senator Brendan Schultz PZ ’19 disputed the resolution’s claim that Oliver’s veto would hinder the college’s fundraising capacity.

“There is no evidence to show that [the Haifa motion] would cause a large decrease in donations,” Schultz said. “This resolution I don’t see as a productive step forward in having the conversations we need to have with the leadership of the institution. It doesn’t establish dialogue.”

Senator Kamyab Mashian PZ ’19 said he appreciated the resolution’s condemnation of Oliver’s “disrespectful” and “inadequate response” to Islamophobia on campus.

He expressed concerns, however, about the college’s capacity to find another president willing to lead it, should a no confidence vote ultimately result in the president’s dismissal, given that this would be Pitzer’s second vote of no confidence in a president in three years.

Pitzer faculty passed a vote of no confidence once before, against former President Laura Trombley, eight days before she left office in 2015.

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