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Columbia Launches Investigation into NYPD Surveillance of Muslims on Campus

By Mary Johnson | February 29, 2012 4:07pm
The library at Columbia University.
The library at Columbia University.
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MANHATTAN — Columbia University will launch an investigation into reports that NYPD counter-terrorism officers have been spying on Muslim students attending the 250-year-old institution, the Associated Press reported.

University President Lee C. Bollinger said in a statement that the school would begin analyzing the extent of the NYPD’s surveillance on campus, which reportedly occurred over the course of several years, beginning in 2006, and included monitoring the public websites of Muslim student groups.

Bollinger added that Columbia officials were unaware of the NYPD’s activities until the AP report came out. Since then, several deans and other university officials have been holding meetings with students to discuss their concerns, he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD's surveillance efforts at a press conference in Brooklyn.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD's surveillance efforts at a press conference in Brooklyn.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

"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." 

While Columbia launches its review, the U.S. Justice Department has also announced it will look into the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods to decide whether to investigate the department for civil rights violations, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Tuesday that he has received complaints about the controversial NYPD practice and said that citizens should only be monitored "when there is a basis to believe that something inappropriate is occurring or potentially could occur."

Columbia is one of several Northeastern universities, including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, that have reportedly been targets of NYPD counter-terrorism efforts. The Associated Press reported that the NYPD's efforts have also focused on searching the websites of Muslim student associations and sending an undercover agent on a City College whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded how many times students prayed.

Despite the backlash from the NYPD's far-reaching efforts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the department.

"Of course we’re going to look at anything that’s publicly available in the public domain. We have an obligation to do so," the mayor said at a recent press conference.