Outrage Continues as NYPD Spying Hits CUNYHunter PSC chapter to file FOIL request with college
Kimberly Devi Milner--Associate News Editor
Hunter’s Professional Staff Congress chapter resolved to file a Freedom of Information Law request with the college after spring break requesting information related to the NYPD’s monitoring of Mus- lim groups at Hunter.
Defending the faculty union’s deci- sion to go ahead with the FOIL request, Integrated Media Arts Professor Tami Gold argued, “who exactly can come into the school if the president and high-level CUNY administration do not know is an enormous concern to us. We don’t accept the answer that levels of higher adminis- tration did not know.”
CUNY Chancellor Goldstein and presi- dents of several CUNY colleges where the NYPD spied on Muslim Student Associa- tions (MSA) have maintained that they had no knowledge that students were being monitored by the NYPD, and have affirmed students’ rights to organize on campus.
Undercover officers were placed in MSAs in City College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, Hunter College, Queens College, La Guardia Community College and St. John’s University, the Associated Press (AP) reported last October.
The secret NYPD program reported that seven out of 31 MSAs in New York City were “of concern,” according to AP
documents provided to The KNIGHT News, Queen College’s newspaper. Brook- lyn’s MSA received the more serious “tier 1” classification for hosting conservative Islamic speakers and “militant paintball trips.” Hunter MSA along with MSAs in three other CUNY colleges and St. John’s University received “tier two” classifica- tions for reasons such as housing per- sons of interest and hosting active Islam based websites; Hunter’s classification was attributed for “radicalization among students.”
Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have said in statements to the media that the NYPD surveillance program only followed leads, however internal documents obtained by the AP indicated that blanket investiga- tions of MSAs were based on the members’ faith. Mosques, fried chicken restaurants, discount stores and other locations serving Muslim populations were also monitored by the NYPD, who crossed jurisdictional state lines to conduct investigations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachu- setts.
On Feb. 18 the AP reported that an informant had accompanied students from City College on a 2008 MSA white water rafting trip to upstate New York, recording names of several participants. The infor- mant noted the number of times the group prayed and that much of their conversa- tion “was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature.”
Jawad Rasul, who found his name in the reports, helped publicize the incident by speaking to Democracy Now! about the trip and his interactions with the individ- ual he suspected was the informant. Rasul told The Envoy “one of the reasons people are not coming out are because they are afraid of possible backlash by the NYPD.” The City College student expressed that he was distressed by the revelation that the student club had been the subject of domestic surveillance. “[CCNY’s] MSO has set up a place where we can relax and wind down; however this thing is really a mental burden,” he said.
“We’re not lawyers,” said Hoda Za- wam, another City College MSA member who said she was shocked and hurt when she learned about the domestic surveil- lance, and has since been addressing the issue with the Center for American Islamic Relations’ New York Chapter as well as the CUNY Law School. “MSAs are working together to do what we have to do to get this thing stopped, but we keep getting the same answer – that it’s out of your hands.”
Responding to the developing media reports, Chancellor Goldstein called for “open exchange” between students and city, state and federal agencies without explicitly condemning NYPD action in a statement released online Feb. 22.
After the Feb. 18 AP report, John T. Rose, Hunter’s Dean of Diversity and Com- pliance, visited Hunter’s MSA to affirm the college’s “continued respect of [MSA’s] right to free speech and association.” “What [the NYPD] is doing is inconsistent with campus administration,” said Rose. “If we knew about it we would have fought it.”
Hunter College has already received FOIL requests concerning its communica- tions with the NYPD from the AP, Queen College’s The KNIGHT News, and the CUNY Law School Creating Law Enforce- ment and Accountability & Responsibility project, according to Rose.
“Hunter has no documentation what- soever, and no knowledge of surveillance,” said the dean. “If this was done it was done without our knowledge, cooperation, or us condoning it.”
“It’s bigger than just our campus – It’s an NYPD practice that at its core is profil- ing. Protecting students against practices we can’t control is our challenge,” he said.