Pitzer President Defends “Free Exchange of Ideas” in Israel at University of Haifa

Earlier today, Pitzer College’s president Melvin L. Oliver spoke to the University of Haifa’s 47th annual Board of Governors meeting, emphasizing his opposition to academic boycotts of Israel. Oliver’s appearance in front of the Board of Governors comes after the Pitzer College Council—a student and faculty governing body—voted to suspend the college’s study abroad program in Israel with the University of Haifa; Oliver vetoed the vote, prompting unsuccessful calls for his resignation.

In his speech at the University of Haifa, Oliver asserted that “[a]cademic boycotts of any nation set us on a path of breaking the free exchange of ideas. 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.”

He also credited the University of Haifa for remaining supportive of its academic ties with Pitzer College even amidst Pitzer College’s campaign to end the relationship:

“I am here today to say thank you to the University of Haifa and President 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.”

Regarding the motion, Oliver further explained his veto of the Pitzer College Council’s decision, remarking that his “opposition to the motion was couched in the defense of the educational mission of the college. As President, I discovered early on that the more I addressed the details of any BDS-inspired argument, the more I became just another political combatant in what appears to be a never-ending content of assertion and counter assertion. This is the essence of polarized thinking today.”

The University of Haifa President, Ron Robin, personally thanked Melvin Oliver for his support of the relationship between their respective academic institutions: “University of Haifa is continuously grateful to President Oliver for his principled defiance of the BDS-motivated call to suspend study abroad ties with our institution. By defending academic freedom and standing against discrimination in this manner, he not only puts his own values into action, but also strongly embodies the values of our University. This is what inspired leadership looks like, in academia or in any setting.”

At the meeting, President Oliver was presented with a “Hamsa Hand” for his leadership and support of Haifa University. The “Hamsa Hand” is an ancient Middle Eastern amulet that is thought to bring its owner happiness, luck, health and good fortune.

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