Students and faculty of California's Pitzer College voted Thursday to suspend the study abroad partnership with Israel's University of Haifa, but college president Melvin Oliver is declining to take any action on the program, calling it an "academic boycott of Israel."
The anti-Israel proposal, backed by radical leftist groups and Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, won the support of the Pitzer College Council in a Thursday vote taken by both students and faculty. Oliver says the vote amounts only to a recommendation to the president and is declining to take it.
Oliver made numerous arguments against the proposal in a Thursday message to the academic community, including that it was "prejudiced" against Israel, would "curtail academic freedom," and that it is not the school's role to take political positions.
"Although some claim that this is not an academic boycott of Israel, I disagree," Oliver wrote. "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. I categorically oppose any form of academic boycott of any country."
Oliver said the "prejudiced" action against Israel would cause irreparable harm to Pitzer's reputation.
"By singling out Israel, the recommendation itself is prejudiced," he wrote. "The reputational harm to the College would be irreparable and as president of this institution, I cannot permit that to happen."
Oliver argued suspending the program would be "directly counter to Pitzer's core value of intercultural understanding."
"The recommendation curtails the academic freedom of those students who wish to study at the University of Haifa," he said. "Among Pitzer’s core values is the promotion of intercultural understanding, much of that achieved through our vibrant study abroad program that enables our students to reach their own conclusions about some of the world’s most vexing challenges through on-the-ground, face-to-face, people-to-people experience. The recommendation runs directly counter to Pitzer’s core value of intercultural understanding."
The University of Haifa's president also spoke out against the proposal, pointing out the diversity at the school, which has a large number of Arabs in both the student body and faculty.
Dan Segal, a far-left professor who led the charge for the anti-Israel proposal and met with Tlaib to discuss it, said Oliver showed his "deeply personal commitment to protect Israeli apartheid" with his decision.
— Daniel A. Segal (@DanSegal14) March 11, 2019
"This shows a failure to appreciate that Palestinians are our fellow human beings, and a contempt for the college’s democratic process," he said, according to the Student Life, a college paper. "Because of the divisiveness of the president’s actions and his betrayal of the college’s core values, the president is doing grievous damage to the college I love and have served for 32 years."
The paper was the only outlet able to cover the vote, due to a school decision to block reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Claremont Independent from entering the meeting.
The Student Life editorial board called it an "egregious assault on the freedom of the press" by the college.