Response: Questions about Undercover Officers on CUNY Campuses

An open letter to Chancellor Milliken, dated 4 November 2015, authored by Todd Fine and signed by over five hundred students and faculty was published in the Advocate’s last issue and website. The letter raised concerns about the presence of a suspected undercover NYPD officer on CUNY campuses infiltrating Muslim organizations, reported by the Gothamist on 29 Octber 2015.

On 12 November 2015, the Gothamist reported that NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism John Miller told WNYC “There’s truth in the Gothamist story, if you pick out certain facts you can say, ‘Well, this is true,’ or ‘That’s true,’ but it’s wrapped around this narrative that there was this overarching blanket surveillance, which is not the case.”

Fine received a response to the open letter from General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, Frederick P. Schaffer, on 16 November 2015. The letter details the 1992 Memorandum of Understanding between the NYPD and CUNY (the “MOU”), but it did not substantially respond to the concerns voiced in the open letter.

On 21 November 2015, in response to queries, Schaffer sent a letter to the Gothamist and to the Advocate stating that “The City University of New York has no knowledge of any undercover operations by the NYPD at Brooklyn College, or any of its campuses, targeting Muslim groups or any other groups.”

To the Advocate, Fine wrote that the letters from Schaffer “failed to address the core issues involving NYPD surveillance.” He questioned if CUNY has inquired whether a valid investigatory reason existed. Further, he wrote:

“Does the university have any intention or desire to try and prevent on-campus surveillance operations that appear on face to be illegal and discriminatory? Given recent court decisions that confirm consistent NYPD disregard of the Handschu guidelines, CUNY must not be so timid in the face of an NYPD that refuses to justify itself. CUNY should assert itself as an institution and attempt to protect its students from unlawful surveillance. If Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould could condemn these broad surveillance practices when they were first revealed in 2011, calling the alleged activities “a violation of freedom of expression and constitutional rights of our students, faculty, and staff,” the Chancellor should be able to do the same now that they have been confirmed to be continuing through the identification of one of the undercover officers.”

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