Pitzer College Council schedules vote on suspending Israel study abroad program

Professor Robin D.G. Kelly of UCLA was a featured panelist at the “Beyond Walls” event at Pitzer College Feb 6. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

After months of heated debate, the Pitzer College Council, a governance board comprising students and faculty, will vote at its March 14 meeting whether to suspend its study abroad program with Israel’s University of Haifa.

While the Council’s vote is technically a recommendation to the president of the college, decisions by Pitzer’s president typically heed College Council recommendations, according to Isaiah Kramer PZ ‘20, a senator on Pitzer’s Student Senate.

The Haifa program has been a hot-button issue since November, when Pitzer’s faculty overwhelmingly voted to suspend the program in protest of Israel’s restrictive entry laws against Palestinian people and anyone supporting a boycott of Israel, particularly those in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Following the decision, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver, who will have the final say on whether to suspend the Haifa program, spoke out against the faculty’s motion in a College Council meeting.

He said it would provide “paltry support for Palestinian rights” and would “foolishly alienate a large population” of the school’s community.

“Why would we not suspend our program with China? Or take our longest standing program in Nepal where the Pitzer in Nepal program has been run for over 40 years. During that time they have had a bloody civil war that killed 19,000 people,” Oliver asked. “Why Israel?”

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Several students attended the Pitzer Student Senate meeting Feb. 3 to speak in support of the Haifa suspension. They urged Senate members to attend a public panel Wednesday called “BDS and the Path to a Just Peace in the Middle East.”

The panel, organized by Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine, brought in professors from UCLA and a member of the Board of Directors of Jewish Voice for Peace to provide historical context for the faculty decision and to argue in favor of the program’s suspension.

“What you’re asking for is just trying to facilitate academic freedom,” said Robin Kelley, a UCLA history professor and member of the panel. “It’s so basic. I mean, I’m surprised that this is a controversy, that’s what surprises me. Like this is a debate.”

Estee Chandler, founder of Jewish Voice for Peace Los Angeles, said the BDS movement “is not anti-Semitic” and utilizes “a nonviolent strategy with a long history in struggles for human rights.”

But not all of the responses to the decision to suspend the study abroad program have been positive.

In November, senators Kramer, Claire Wengrod PZ ’19 and Brendan Schultz PZ ’19 introduced resolution 55-R-04, which condemned faculty for moving forward with the decision before reaching a consensus with students.

A panel on the impact of the Pitzer study abroad at Haifa University in the BDS movement in the was held at Benson Auditorium Feb 6. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

The resolution claimed that the faculty decision did not align with Pitzer’s shared governance system, in which students, faculty and staff share power in campus decision-making. Instead, faculty decided to “act unilaterally without regard to student voice, which is an abuse of power,” the resolution said.

55-R-04 was brought forward once again at the Feb. 3 meeting, but was voted down.

Shay Lari-Hosain PZ ’22 told senators at the meeting that the Senate should “demand shared governance on its own terms and talk about Haifa on its own terms,” characterizing the resolution and similar discussion as “distractions.”

The majority of senators said they believed that faculty had not intended to abuse their power as the resolution insinuated.

The issue has transcended the college, with groups like the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, which represents more than 6,000 Palestinian university staff, speaking out.

“Please, uphold the vote in support of our struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” the federation wrote in a letter to Pitzer Feb. 5.

Whether these expressions of support and opposition sway the College Council’s final decision will be reflected in the vote in March, which will be held in the Founders Room on the top floor of McConnell Center.

Haidee Clauer and Kira Matthews contributed to this report.

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