A Message Regarding NYPD Surveillance of Muslim Student Groups

February 24, 2012

Dear Fellow Members of the Columbia Community:

As many of you know, the Associated Press recently reported that more than a dozen colleges in the Northeast, including Columbia and some of our fellow Ivy League universities, were the subject of NYPD surveillance that included the monitoring of public websites run by Muslim student groups, as well as some instances of other surveillance. The articlestates that the surveillance occurred over several years beginning in 2006 and involved the use of undercover agents at some schools, though there has been no suggestion that the NYPD surveillance at Columbia extended beyond the monitoring of websites. It nevertheless must be said that such an intrusion into the normal, daily activities of our students raises deeply troubling questions that should concern us all.      

As we have stated, the University and our Department of Public Safety had no prior knowledge and learned of these NYPD activities only when they were reported by the news media. The public response by universities, including my statement earlier this week, uniformly objected to the government monitoring of students purely based on race, nationality, or, as was the case here, religion. While we appreciate the daunting responsibility of keeping New York safe, law enforcement officials should not be conducting such surveillance of a particular group of students or citizens without any cause to suspect criminal conduct.  

We should all be able to appreciate the deeply personal concerns of the Muslim members of our community in learning that their activities were being monitored—and the chilling effect such governmental efforts have on any of us in a university devoted to the foundational values of free speech and association.

Several deans and other University officials have been meeting with students this week to discuss the personal concerns and important questions raised by this entire matter, and additional meetings for this purpose will soon be announced. We will in the days and weeks ahead need both to learn more about what has actually occurred with respect to our community and to higher education institutions in the area, and to reaffirm the University’s commitment to protecting the interests of individual privacy and of free and open discussion on campus.


Lee C. Bollinger