Following Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver’s March 14 veto of the College Council vote to suspend the school’s study abroad program in Israel, students and faculty across the 5Cs are taking action — and some are calling for Oliver’s resignation.
Oliver released his decision just three hours after the College Council meeting voted 67-28 to suspend its University of Haifa program, shocking members of the 5C community. Students for Justice in Palestine posted a petition on Facebook that evening demanding Oliver “honor shared governance” and reverse his decision.
Hashtags such as #MelvinWontListen, #NoAcademicFreedomUnderOccupation and #ProApartheidOliver were used on Facebook and Twitter to discuss Oliver’s decision and the SJP petition. As of Thursday, more than 900 people had signed the petition, including 5C students, as well as professors, activists and organizations from around the country.
“We circulated it right away and it just took off,” SJP chair Lea Kayali PO ’19 said via email. “It was honestly a moment of intense emotions for me as a Palestinian student on campus. I was deeply disappointed and frustrated by President Oliver’s actions but I felt so supported by other students who came from all corners of the 5C campuses to support us and spread the petition.”
Additionally, a resolution of no confidence will be introduced at an emergency session of Pitzer Student Senate Sunday. The resolution was sponsored by 90 students and five affinity groups, as of Thursday.
None of the resolution’s nine authors, all student senators, responded to requests for comment.
Student Senate President-elect Clint Isom PZ ’20 was originally listed as a primary author of the resolution, but his name has since been removed from the document. He declined to specify why he removed his name from the resolution.
Citing both the Haifa veto and the college’s Board of Trustees’ decision to overturn a 2017 senate resolution boycotting some companies with ties to Israel, the resolution says Oliver’s decision “represents the second intervention in autonomous, democratic, student-led decision-making on issues related to the college’s complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”
If passed, the resolution constitutes a vote of no confidence by the senate and calls for Oliver’s immediate resignation or removal from office if he does not retract his decision by end of day April 11. However, it is unclear if the resolution actually has the power to introduce a vote of no confidence to the faculty, Isom said.
Pitzer faculty passed a vote of no confidence once before — against one of Pitzer’s previous presidents, Laura Trombley, eight days before she left office in 2015.
“At any rate, it just has a symbolic status,” Isom said. “If the Student Senate votes in favor of this, it still tells the school and it tells the alumni and it tells the faculty and staff that ‘Hey, we as Student Senate have no confidence in our school’s president,’ and even if that means he’s not voted out officially … this would be our official stance on the matter.”
The senate generally holds votes on resolutions a week after they are introduced, but a senator can motion to skip the waiting period and vote at the same meeting, Isom said.
A resolution in defense of Pitzer’s shared governance policies, which encourages Oliver to reverse his decision, will also be introduced at the meeting.
Some in the 5C community did support Oliver’s decision.
“I thank him for standing up for academic freedom,” 5C Jewish chaplain Rabbi Daniel Shapiro said via message.
Zachary Freiman PO ’20, a board member for Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance said CPIA “commends his bravery and commitment to academic freedom.”
Pitzer’s Faculty Executive Committee called a faculty meeting Thursday to discuss the veto, according to FEC chair Claudia Strauss.
Strauss could not be reached for comment before press time.
Pitzer professor Dan Segal, who’s been a driving force behind the push to end the Haifa program, said via email most of time devoted to the Haifa resolution at the FEC meeting “was spent asking questions of President Oliver and hearing his responses.”
Segal said he saw “a broad commitment to find a way forward that is good for our students and the college.”
Segal did not respond to a question regarding whether the faculty discussed a vote of no confidence in Oliver.
The other 5Cs all have study abroad programs in Israel. Some 5C professors who signed the SJP petition have said they support potentially suspending those programs as well.
Pomona College politics professor Heather Williams said via email that she feels conflicted about boycotts and sanctions as “clumsy tools of speech that can and do backfire,” but signed the petition because she felt “compelled to register my deepest moral objection to the Israeli government’s support for and protection of illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank, as well as acts of war against unarmed civilians in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Williams said she would “support a faculty review” of Pomona’s study abroad program in Jerusalem, “followed by a vote over whether we should continue to list the Jerusalem program as one of a limited number of pre-approved study-abroad sites.”
Jaimie Ding SC ’21 is from Vancouver, Washington.