December 10, 2019

Resolution Calling on Pitzer President to Resign Fails

A resolution by the Pitzer College Student Senate calling on school President Melvin L. Oliver to resign has failed.

The vote, held on April 7, was 20-12 in favor of retaining Oliver.

The resolution was initially introduced on March 31 in response to Oliver’s decision to veto the Pitzer College’s vote to suspend the college’s study abroad program at University of Haifa until Israel ended its immigration ban on supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Had the resolution passed, it could have resulted in Pitzer’s faculty issuing a vote of no confidence in Oliver, according to the Claremont Independent.

The resolution denounced Oliver for vetoing the council’s vote for the first time in Pitzer’s 56-year history as an unwarranted “intervention in autonomous, democratic, student-led decision-making on issues related to the College’s complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

The Student Senate then called for Pitzer’s immediate resignation or removal from office. 

According to the meeting’s minutes posted on the Student Senate’s website, member Brendan Schultz said that while he disagreed with Oliver’s veto, Oliver still has “the community’s interests in mind.” Another member, Arman Ahmed, said that calling for Oliver to resign would be “a bit drastic” since it would mean Pitzer would be searching for its fourth president in five years, which “doesn’t look good for [Pitzer’s] reputation.”

Student Senate member Caroline Joseph, on the other hand, argued in favor of the resolution, stating that Oliver’s veto showed that he “doesn’t have confidence” in the student governing body. “This is a message to him that we want him to represent the students instead of just the board of trustees,” Joseph said.

Had the resolution passed, Pitzer’s faculty could have issued a vote of no confidence in Oliver, according to the student-run Claremont Independent newspaper.

Siamak Kordestani, American Jewish Committee Los Angeles’ assistant director for Policy and Communications, told the Journal in a statement via email, “AJC is pleased that Pitzer College’s Student Senate voted down this misguided resolution. We have commended President Oliver for standing up for academic freedom. Pitzer students interested in studying at the University of Haifa and learning about Israel firsthand should be able to do so without any hindrances.”

While that resolution failed, a separate resolution censuring Oliver’s veto passed by a vote of 29-0. The censure is symbolic but the resolution took the president to task, stating, “We find President Oliver’s overturning of the vote at College Council to be fundamentally at odds with Pitzer’s values and pedagogy of shared governance; and be it further resolved, 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 added, “We censure President Oliver’s veto and demand that President Oliver and his administration immediately implement the motion as approved by College Council on March 14, 2019.” 

On that day, the Pitzer College Council voted by a margin of 67-28, with eight abstentions, to suspend the University of Haifa study abroad program. Shortly thereafter, Oliver announced he would be vetoing the council’s vote.

“The recommendation puts in place a form of academic boycott of Israel and, in the process, sets us on a path away from the free exchange of ideas, a direction which ultimately destroys the academy’s ability to fulfill our educational mission,” Oliver said. “I categorically oppose any form of academic boycott of any country.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, said in an April 8 statement to the Journal, “President Oliver did the right thing morally and for the interests of Pitzer as an academic institution. The backlash he has faced is disgraceful and we are glad he stood strong and that the campaign against him seems to be losing momentum.”

A spokesperson for Pitzer College did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.