June 18, 2019

Pitzer College Council Curbs Student Representation Before Thursday Israel Vote

The Pitzer College Council will be limiting the number of student senators who can vote on the council before Thursday’s vote on the college’s study abroad program in Israel.

According to The Student Life newspaper, the Pitzer Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) is only allowing 32 of the 48 student senators to partake in Thursday’s vote. The FEC is interpreting a section of the faculty handbook stating “that the total number of Student Voting members of the College Council is not less than one-third of the voting faculty” to mean that the number of student senators can’t comprise of more than one-third of voting faculty.

Student Senate President Shivani Kavuluru explained at a March 10 student senate meeting, “The faculty handbook is like a contract, and to [the FEC], the fairest interpretation of that language was that when they said ‘one-third,’ they obviously meant only 32 students allowed and 96 eligible faculty.”

All 48 student senate members had been allowed to vote in every council meeting in the 2018-19 academic year, according to Kavuluru. Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle told The Student Life that this was because “we haven’t had major contentious issues on College Council where the vote might be close, and so we’ve been a little informal about it.” He added that the FEC will clarify the language of the “one-third” language of the handbook.

The student senate is planning on countering the FEC’s decision by pushing for all of the student senators to vote. Their contingency plans involve pushing for 37 student senators to vote; if that fails, they will call for all 48 members to vote in a way so it only counts as 32 votes. Should these proposals fail, the student senate “will call for the 32 voting members to be randomly selected from the willing voter pool, and plans to separately track the votes of the senators who are not allowed to vote,” per The Student Life.

At the March 10 student senate meeting, Student senator Brendan Schulz called the FEC’s decision an effort “to disenfranchise students.”

“I see this as the biggest threat to the student voice in the shared governance process that I’ve seen in my time at Pitzer,” Schultz said.

Boyle and the university have not responded to the Journal’s requests for comment.

The council will be voting on March 14 on if the university will continue their study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel. In November, the faculty voted on a motion to discontinue the program until the Israeli government ceases its ban of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) supporter from entering the country and allows an equal number of visas for Palestinian university exchanges.

The Claremont Independent came out against discontinuing the program in a March 12 editorial.

“To boycott the University of Haifa program is not just a shameful violation of academic freedom; it is also a grave disservice to Pitzer students who will have to learn how to interact closely with those with opposing views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, especially those who wish to engage with political or diplomatic careers,” the editorial states. “A boycott reduces a complex scenario to what would be remembered by students as a simple dichotomy of good and bad by denying students the ability to see the conflict first-hand and make judgements on their own. In such a complex situation, it is childish to assume demonizing Israel and shifting total support to Palestine would do anything to resolve the situation; to expect the Jewish people—after thousands of years of persecution—to abandon their homeland is ludicrous.”

Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver condemned the effort to discontinue the program at a November council meeting.

“To deny Pitzer students who want to study at Haifa University the opportunity to study abroad and to enter into dialogue and promote intercultural understanding at the altar of political considerations is anathema to Pitzer’s core values,” Oliver said. “If the suspension of the Haifa University program becomes a reality, this will be paltry support for the cause of Palestinian rights and a major blow to the reputation and reality of Pitzer College as a scholarly institution committed to its stated values of intercultural understanding and the ability of students to pursue their vision of educational engagement.”