Turning Against Free Press, Pitzer Turns Against Its Own Values
As the Claremont Independent recently reported, Pitzer College has decided to bar members of the Independent’s staff from attending the meeting where a vote by the Pitzer College Council—composed of student government officers and faculty—to suspend Pitzer’s exchange program with the University of Haifa in Israel would be decided. Meanwhile, The Student Life, the “official” newspaper of the Claremont Colleges according to the Pitzer’s Faculty Executive Council which barred the Independent, has been granted exclusive access to the meeting. We here at the Claremont Independent are speaking in no uncertain terms when we label this move for what it is—self-serving, childish, and most importantly, antithetical to the principle of free press.
Let us be clear; the Claremont Independent does not wish to stamp out any voice on the issue or make free press a political issue; free press should be a universal value in this country that is supported by all media outlets regardless of political bent, as The Student Life demonstrated in its editorial condemning Pitzer’s move. Rather, we’d like some acknowledgment by the administration and by the student body that, at any institution of higher education there will be, and should be differences of opinion regarding such complex issues as the current Israeli-Palestinian situation—differences that shouldn’t be quashed through restricting free press. We want to see an understanding of nuance in interaction between nations and groups of people, an awareness that complex moral issues cannot always be rendered in black and white. Instead, we’ve gotten the tired old adage of “Israel bad, Palestine good.” This mentality is from an institution which claims to churn out students whose intercultural understanding will allow them “to thrive and succeed in an ever-changing global community.” To do so, a free press plays an important role in doling out a diverse range of opinions—a role that Pitzer is denying.
This trend has already become apparent to us at the Claremont Independent. Beyond just voting on shutting down the Haifa exchange, Pitzer has barred media which could comment unfavorably on such an action—the Independent—from even being present at the meeting during which the vote would be taken. At the same time, Pitzer has granted access to the The Student Life. From the perspective of the Pitzer Council, of course, this move makes perfect sense; The Student Life’s editorial board has not taken a position on the matter, as we have by calling for academic freedom and a vote against the suspension of the Haifa study abroad program. The Independent, meanwhile, which has covered the process of withdrawing from Haifa since the beginning, would, if given the opportunity, decry a move suspending the study abroad program if it occurs. However, just because a publication has a certain stance on an issue, does not warrant its banning. Just as the White House should not ban certain media outlets that a President dislikes, Pitzer’s student and faculty leaders should not ban media outlets that have different opinions from them. No student media should be banned from any campus event, period. Pitzer’s excuses of “limited space” are also poor; if there was limited space, Pitzer would be better off designating a press pool. However, like a spoiled child, the Pitzer College Council has surrounded itself with supporters and barred dissidents from intruding upon its deliberations.
The moves by Pitzer are not new; of all the media offices across the Claremont Colleges that we have contacted over the years—which include those of Pomona, Claremont McKenna, and Scripps Colleges—only Pitzer’s regularly engages in behaviors that stifle free press, such as ignoring enquiries. On this issue alone, we have contacted Pitzer’s media office repeatedly over the weeks, but have not received a reply until yesterday’s fiasco.
This move confirms to us here at the Claremont Independent what the thought process behind the decision to pull out of Haifa is. Pitzer doesn’t want to create a community of genuine scholars; Pitzer doesn’t want to subject its students to the hardships of dealing with disagreement. Pitzer wants to insulate itself against criticism, to put on its metaphorical headphones and sleeping mask and tune out the world while nodding off to the comforting voices of people who think just like them. For an institution of higher learning, from which may spring future policy makers and leaders, this attitude towards intellectual freedom and curiosity is absolutely unacceptable. The idea that students, faculty, or anyone else should be protected from views that don’t align with their own convictions is ludicrous. It’s not constructive, and it’s not reasonable. Frankly, it’s downright immoral. Pitzer is deliberately stunting the intellectual and emotional development of its students by trying to insulate them from worldviews opposed to their own.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that Pitzer isn’t interested in cleaving to its purported values. The move to cut the Haifa exchange program, and Pitzer’s attempt to block the Independent from attending the vote, are both clear plays by Pitzer to come out of the whole incident smelling like a rose. But that won’t be the case. Regardless of Pitzer’s wishes, the Claremont Independent will do everything we can to ensure full coverage of the proceedings. We will not be prevented from presenting students with a perspective which, though it may differ from their own, must be presented for the sake of completeness and intellectual honesty. Our job is to hold institutions like Pitzer accountable. It’s a job we take seriously. Regardless of Pitzer’s wishes, the Independent will not be muzzled on such an important topic. The vote of the Pitzer Council will be covered, one way or another. We will not be violent, we will not be aggressive, we will not be rude. But we will be there. Count on it.
Alec Sweet & William Gu, Editors-in-Chief
Chris Rossi, Managing Editor
Liam MacDonald, Interim Editor
Ahlbie Squire, Interim News Editor