August 17, 2019

Pitzer College Faculty Votes to Suspend Study Abroad Program in Israel

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The faculty of Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges, voted on a motion to end its study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel on Monday.

According to the Claremont Independent, Pitzer’s faculty voted to suspend the program until Israel ends its policy of preventing supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country and begins to grant “visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”

The faculty also passed a motion expressing their dissatisfaction with Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver and the Board of Trustees’ decision to render invalid a student government resolution passed in 2017 calling the college to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

“We the Faculty object to the president and trustees singling out this one issue as a basis for not accepting the Senate’s longstanding autonomy in controlling its funds, in the context of Pitzer’s governance system,” the dissension read.

Ron Robin, president of the University of Haifa, said in a statement that the university is “highly disappointed” in the vote to suspend the study abroad program.

As Pitzer’s Student Senate articulated in a powerful resolution, the faculty’s decision is ‘a flagrant advancement of a political agenda at the expense of students who seek opportunities in Middle East/North African Studies, Arabic, Hebrew, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the intercultural relations of Israeli and Palestinian ethnicities,’” Robin said. “Indeed, Israel’s commitment to an open and inclusive society in which multiculturalism and interfaith tolerance thrive is no more evident than on the University of Haifa campus, where an approximately 25-percent-Arab student body exceeds the 20-percent-Arab population of the country as a whole.”

The resolution Robin referenced states, “The Pitzer College Student Senate 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.”

There will be a campus-wide discussion held on Thursday to discuss the faculty’s motion to suspend the study abroad program.

Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs for StandWithUs, told the Journal in an email, “Faculty shouldn’t be trying to limit educational opportunities and undermine academic freedom on campus.”

“We are encouraged by the student government’s resolution criticizing the anti-study abroad vote and hope other Pitzer governing bodies will join them in standing up for the free exchange of ideas,” Krudo added.  

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative Director, condemned the faculty’s votes as “absolutely reprehensible.”

“These Pitzer faculty members have abrogated their most basic professional responsibility – to promote the academic welfare of their students,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “President Oliver must immediately condemn this action and publicly commit to ensuring that no Pitzer student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel and that faculty will not be permitted to implement an academic boycott of Israel at Pitzer.”

A university spokesperson told the Journal that the university will refrain from commenting on the matter until the governing process on it is complete.