Students, alumni seek to be more involved in debate over Pitzer motion to suspend University of Haifa program

Pitzer Student Senate will vote again on its resolution to condemn the faculty’s motion to suspend the study abroad program at University of Haifa. (Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Pitzer College students and alumni expressed concerns over the lack of transparency and procedural ambiguities of a controversial faculty motion to suspend a Pitzer study abroad partnership with the University of Haifa.

The motion discussed by students and faculty at a Pitzer College Council meeting Nov. 26 was originally intended for a vote in a Nov. 8 faculty meeting but was brought before the larger community when a procedural contradiction was found.

Immediately following the Nov. 8 faculty meeting, Pitzer Student Senate members proposed a resolution to condemn the faculty motion.

The resolution states that it “denounces the Faculty’s desire to suspend the study abroad program at the University of Haifa and the Faculty’s decision to act unilaterally without regard to Student Voice, which constitutes an abuse of power and rebuke of Pitzer’s tradition of shared governance.”

Kamyab Mashian, PZ ’19, the vice president of internal affairs for Pitzer Student Senate, said the faculty motion was largely intended to be unilateral.

“This whole process has been really tricky for students to even know what’s going on … We kind of had to push our way in,” he said.

Students have previously brought forward motions for the College Council.

“The faculty have in the past set a very high standard for students in the past,” Mashian said. “I think it’s odd that the faculty were expecting that from us but didn’t seem to have done that for us in this case,” he said.

Dan Segal, a professor of anthropology and history and member of the Study Abroad Faculty Committee, disagreed with that characterization of the faculty motion.

Citing a year-long working group that hosted a public forum and discussions on the program with students, he said that students have been “brought into the conversation for over a year.”

The resolution, which has been twice postponed due to low attendance, is on the agenda for a vote in an upcoming Student Senate meeting Dec. 9.

Claire Wengrod PZ ’19, a Student Senate representative who sponsored the resolution condemning the faculty motion, said that it encourages “student participation and makes it so that students need to be involved in the process of creating policy change in the college.”

“According to Pitzer’s process of shared governance, students, staff, and faculty are supposed to have a role and a voice in policy changes in the college,” she said.

Though the vote on the Student Senate resolution is on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, Mashian said it is likely to be tabled for further amendments addressing broader student input.

Peter Yan PZ ’21 said students should be more involved in decisions regarding educational opportunities. It’s not the first time the study abroad committee has blocked outside educational programs, Yan said.

He said another student “felt betrayed” when she tried to petition to participate in a Silicon Valley program but was told it “didn’t fit Pitzer’s core values.”

Mashian also worried about voices being left out of the debate.

“A lot of students are pretty hesitant to be in a situation where they could be blacklisted,” he said. “As Student Senate, it is our priority to protect those students.”

He said faculty are unlikely to speak out, especially since Pitzer President Melvin Oliver condemned the faculty motion.

“It’s really hard for someone who’s going to be judged by their peers on whether or not to get tenure to stand up and speak their voice,” Mashian said.

Oliver spoke at the beginning of the College Council meeting discussion to decry “the substantial and unnecessary damage” of the faculty’s motion.

Pitzer spokesperson Anna Chang wrote in an email to TSL that “President Oliver felt it was important to provide an alternative viewpoint for the community to consider and discuss” and that he chose not to speak at the end of the meeting because “his remarks might be perceived as invalidating or vetoing the forgoing comments.”

In addition to issues surrounding the process by which the motion has been addressed, students and alumni have many opinions on the motion itself.

“I’m from China, and Trump is the president of the United States … By the professor’s [Segal’s] same logic, I should not be here,” Yan said, mentioning political tensions between China and America. “But I feel like education is education.”

Sara Farooqi PZ ’08 wrote an email to Oliver in support of the faculty motion and “to convey [her] extreme disappointment” regarding his remarks at the Pitzer meeting.

“Your actions clearly demonstrate that you value certain students’ experiences over others and are willing to erode Pitzer’s democratic principles to maintain this discriminatory reality,” she wrote. “Furthermore, I am disturbed by reports I am hearing that faculty, especially non-tenured faculty, and staff who are advocating on behalf of students, are being intimidated and made to feel concerned about their job security. This is totally unacceptable … [I] have no confidence in you or the Board to represent Pitzer’s core values of social justice and inclusivity.”

The motion to suspend the Haifa program is scheduled for a vote at the next College Council meeting in February 2019.

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