December 8, 2019

Pitzer College President Condemns Motion to Suspend Israel Study Abroad Program

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

During a Thursday speech before the Pitzer College Council, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver condemned a motion, approved by the school’s faculty on Monday, to suspend the college’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa.

In a transcript of the speech obtained by the Journal, Oliver said that the arguments favoring the motion “show little or no consideration for our educational objectives and mission.”

“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.”

Part of the faculty’s stated reason for supporting the motion was Israel’s ban on supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) from entering the country; Oliver pointed out that Israel’s Supreme Court overruled the government’s attempt to prevent United States student Lara Alqasem from studying at Hebrew University under the ban.

This, Oliver argued, differentiates the Israeli court from the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld President Trump’s travel ban.

“Are we ready to have other colleges and universities ban their students from attending Pitzer College because of our national immigration laws?” Oliver asked.

Additionally, Oliver highlighted the fact that Pitzer still has study abroad programs in countries like China that engage in “significant human right’s abuses.”

“China currently has 1 million Muslims imprisoned in re-education camps. Why would we not suspend our program with China?” Oliver asked. “Or take our longest standing program in Nepal where the Pitzer in Nepal program has been run for over 40 years. During that time they have had a bloody civil war that killed 19,000 people. Why Israel?”

Oliver concluded his speech by arguing that the motion would “foolishly alienate a large percentage of our Jewish and non-Jewish constituents.”

“This decision has consequences; consequences that will over time limit our reach, adversely affect our ability to implement our academic goals such as research funding and innovative academic programming; and create a misleading impression of our campus community and alumni,” Oliver said.