Student Gov’t. Fails to Gather Enough Votes for Pitzer President Resignation

Pitzer College’s Student Senate failed to pass a resolution demanding that Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver resign for keeping Pitzer’s study abroad program in Israel. Starting last week, the Student Senate began deliberating a resolution demanding that Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver resign because Oliver decided to veto a faculty and student vote to end the college’s only study abroad program in Israel with the University of Haifa. The resolution failed with 12 yays and 20 nays.

In light of Oliver vetoing a Pitzer College Council—a governing body of faculty and students—vote to suspend the college’s study abroad program in Israel on claims that Israel restricts access to students of Palestinian descent and commits human rights violations, there has been significant backlash against the college president. Oliver’s veto is the first of its kind in 56 years.

The resolution had nine student senator authors and many other sponsors, including student groups such as APAC (Asian Pacific American Coalition), SAMP (South Asian Mentorship Program), LSU (Latinx Student Union), MIX (Mixed Identities Group), IPMP (Indigenous Peer Mentorship Program), and MSA (Muslim Student Association).

The resolution also claims that “anyone who acts as a fundraiser for the College must be able to endorse the faculty’s strong capability for intellectual and pedagogical success, based on the faculty’s experiences as educators and professional researchers…the President’s dismissal strongly articulates the idea that the College’s faculty offers arguments without merit, therefore impacting the College’s fundraising ability.”

As previously noted by the Independent, the resolution accuses Oliver and the college administration of being complicit in Islamophobia:

“[T]he College’s administration will not explicitly condemn the posters trafficking in anti-Muslim tropes, posted in Atherton Hall, as ‘racist,’ and…in the days following the Christchurch terrorist attack, the President’s Office did not issue a statement to the community, and furthermore, a faculty member penned an email to the students, faculty and staff of the College baselessly insinuating its Palestinian and/or Muslim students inherently hold the potential to act violently—furthering a culture of on-campus Islamophobia without pushback.” (emphasis original)

The Student Senate does not have direct power to remove Oliver from office even if the vote passed, making the vote symbolic; however, passage in the Student Senate could lead to a faculty vote of no confidence.

At the same Student Senate meeting, the student senators also deliberated whether to replace the phrase “Zionist money” with “money from supporters of the Israeli state” from the meeting minutes of the previous meeting on March 31, but in the end, decided to clarify that an audience member—and not a student senator—stated the phrase. In context, during an exchange between student senators and audience members, one audience member pointed out that “[w]e are not the only college that receives Zionist money, we could become attractive for anti-Zionist funding. But this is an issue of human rights so the funding shouldn’t matter, though I understand why someone would bring it up.”

Prior to the final vote, the Student Senate announced plans to hold a vote to reveal who voted for and against the motion to boycott Haifa, titled as 55-R-17. The resolution states that the “[Pitzer Student Senate will] now publish how every student senator voted during the third vote during College Council [vote that Oliver overturned, approving the Strauss-Segal amended Haifa Suspension.” One student justified the upcoming vote as solving an “accountability” issue among student voters.

The debate ran on far beyond the planned time of 8 p.m., with an ambiguous vote of confidence and thus a revote. The initial vote was a tie, with the deciding vote being non differentiable between “yes” and “no.”

Facing huge condemnation against Oliver, one student senator defended the President, arguing that he “had no vote” and that “he approached [the veto] in a very respectful manner.” Another student senator fired back, insisting that Oliver did have a choice to work with the Senate to achieve a resolution, but chose to completely ignore the vote instead.

Another resolution, 55-R-15, approving the symbolic censuring of the Oliver’s veto by the Student Senate, was passed 29 to 0.

Correction: A previous version read “during an exchange between student senators audience members.” The current version reads “during an exchange between student senators and audience members”

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