March 15, 2019 — Los Angeles
American Jewish Committee (AJC) praised Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver for his principled stance in affirming that a study abroad partnership with the University of Haifa in Israel will continue despite a vote by the school’s College Council recommending that the program cease to operate.
“Some will say that I am taking my own position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in choosing not to implement the recommendation of the College Council. I am not. Instead, I am refusing to permit Pitzer College to take a position that I believe will only harm the College,” Oliver wrote in a strong statement issued soon after the vote.
The drive to end the Haifa University partnership was initiated by a Pitzer professor and other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)-affiliated activists on campus.
“By singling out Israel, the recommendation itself is prejudiced,” wrote Oliver. “If implemented, the recommendation would unnecessarily alienate a large cross section of the College’s constituencies. The reputational harm to the College would be irreparable and as president of his institution, I cannot permit that to happen.”
Calling the College Council recommendation “an academic boycott of Israel,” Oliver wrote, “I categorically oppose any form of academic boycott of any country. We cannot allow our objections to the policies of any nation’s government to become a blanket indictment of the nation itself and, by extension, its citizens.”
AJC has advocated for months for a rejection of the proposed boycott of Haifa University.
“The College Council action was an outrageous attack on academic freedom,” said AJC Los Angeles Assistant Director Siamak Kordestani and AJC Director of Campus Affairs Zev Hurwitz. “The measure threatened to allow a dangerous precedent – that it is acceptable for outside political influence to limit student experiences.”
Oliver has been vigorously supportive of academic freedom since the fall semester, when the attempt to end relations with the Haifa campus began. At the time Oliver also spoke out strongly against ending this academic opportunity for Pitzer students.
“By preventing the implementation of an effort to sever ties with Israel’s most diverse campus, President Oliver demonstrates moral courage, support for true academic freedom, and the preservation of neutrality for Pitzer College on contentious conflicts,” said Kordestani and Hurwitz.