University President Lee Bollinger will host a fireside chat this evening to discuss NYPD monitoring of Muslim students at Columbia.
A “limited number” of students from schools across the University received invitations to the 5 p.m. chat, according to an invitation sent to some students by Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger over the weekend. The invitation also said that a larger University town hall is scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Muslim Religious Life Adviser Khalil Abdur-Rashid said that the chat shows “real leadership” on Bollinger’s part. Student Governing Board Chair Barry Weinberg, CC ’12, who was invited to the event, said that deans identified Muslim student leaders to invite, among others.
According to Weinberg, the Tuesday town hall will take place at the Earl Hall auditorium and be moderated by University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis.
Columbia College Student Council President Aki Terasaki, CC ’12, said that he was invited to the event, and Barnard Student Government Association President Jessica Blank, BC ’12, said she did not believe that any SGA representatives were invited.
On Friday, Bollinger released his second public statement concerning the Associated Press report that as recently as 2007, the New York City Police Department regularly monitored the website of Columbia’s Muslim Students Association, as well as Muslim student groups at other schools. Bollinger said in the statement that “such an intrusion into the normal, daily activities of our students raises deeply troubling questions that should concern us all.”
“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,” Bollinger said.
“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,” he added.
At a town hall meeting held by the MSA on Wednesday night, many students criticized Bollinger’s initial response to the reported surveillance.
The consensus at the town hall was that Bollinger’s initial statement was inadequate and should have been issued to all University affiliates, rather than just student leaders. Many MSA members also felt that the statement trivialized the scale of the NYPD surveillance.
“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,” Bollinger said in his statement on Friday.
Weinberg, referring to the Monday fireside chat, said it is “appropriate that the president meet with the people affected by the spying.” But he criticized Bollinger’s initial response to the reported surveillance, saying that Bollinger’s first statement “very weakly condemned the spying and profiling of our students.”
“Because they’re not being held accountable in many ways on many issues, they’ve essentially forgotten how to do the most basic requirements of their job well, something like responding to the police department, an external affairs matter,” Weinberg said, referring to the Columbia administration. “And they couldn’t even handle that very well.”
“It’s pathetic on Columbia’s part. It’s pathetic on Low Library’s part,” he added.
Terasaki said that while “the initial response was not as as strong as it needed to be,” the fireside chat and town hall were steps in the right direction.
“By encouraging the conversations that they’re planning to have ... we can get a better understanding on the University’s stance on the issues,” he said.
The AP reported on Feb. 18 that officers from the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence unit patrolled the websites of various Muslim student groups, including Columbia’s, as part of a “daily routine” in 2006 and 2007. The NYPD also embedded undercover agents in Muslim groups at several schools.
Ben Gittelson contributed reporting.