June 27, 2019

Pitzer President Visits University of Haifa

Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver, and University of Haifa President Ron Robin at the university's 47th Board of Governors meeting on May 28, 2018. Photo courtesy of University of Haifa

Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver visited the University of Haifa in Israel, where he spoke out against academic boycotts.

Oliver spoke to around 200 people at the University of Haifa’s 47th annual Board of Governors meeting on May 28. He said given Pitzer Professor Daniel Segal’s frequent pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activism, Pitzer “faculty were primed to vote positively and promptly” in favor of a resolution to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa in November.

“Segal is a successful one-man media operation, gaining international coverage of the Pitzer faculty vote, even though at that point there was no change in Pitzer’s policy,” Oliver said.

After the Pitzer College Council — which consists of Pitzer faculty, students and staff — voted 67-28, with eight abstentions, in favor of suspending the program on March 14, Oliver said he decided to veto the vote later that evening because of his “unapologetic defense of our educational mission. We are not a political institution to take sides to determine winners and losers of our academic community, and among our institutional partners. To do so, we destroy the backbone of sociality and equality that is necessary to discuss, debate, create knowledge.”

He added educational institutions need “to be ruthless critics of validities of all sides and generous appreciators of truth and virtue.

“Academic boycotts of any nation set us on a path of breaking the free exchange of ideas,” Oliver said. “To boycott a country on the basis of their policies is, by definition, a blanket indictment of the nation itself, and by extension, its citizens. This is whether we are talking about Israel and its immigration policies or the United States and its [partial] Muslim ban.”

“I am here today to say thank you to the University of Haifa and President [Ron] Robin for standing with us in the defense of the educational mission of both our institutions.” – Melvin Oliver

Oliver concluded his speech, saying, “I am here today to say thank you to the University of Haifa and President [Ron] Robin for standing with us in the defense of the educational mission of both our institutions. It is a credit to your institution that in this debate, no one can point to any policies or actions by the University of Haifa that would even be remotely linked to a rationale of suspending our program. With your diverse student body, you are really a model institution for us to partner with and I hope we can continue for years to come.”

Robin thanked Oliver and gave him a hamsa symbolizing good luck.

Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles tweeted, “We commend @pitzercollege President Oliver for his leadership by visiting @HaifaUniversity reinforcing opposition to the misguided Pitzer resolution calling for an academic boycott.”

Associate Dean and Global Social Action Agenda Director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement to the Journal, “Pitzer President Oliver’s speech at the University of Haifa reaffirming the school’s ties to Israel should be emulated by the Presidents and Chancellors of NYU, Northwestern, Columbia, University of Chicago and UCLA. That’s the only way to put an end to the bullying and hate-threatening [of] Jewish students and an honest, user-friendly learning environment.”

StandWithUs Co-Founder and CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “We applaud President Oliver for visiting Haifa University and taking this strong moral stand against bigotry. His staunch opposition to campaigns of hate against Israel has ensured that Pitzer College will not fall on the wrong side of history.”