Defending Our Students' Civil Rights

February 28, 2012

Members of the Rutgers Community:

Many of you have read reports of the alleged surveillance of Muslim students at Rutgers and other universities in the region by the New York Police Department (NYPD). These alleged actions have caused grave concern among students, faculty, staff, and alumni at Rutgers, especially within the Muslim community.  If it proves true that these students were targeted for surveillance because of their religion, such actions are abhorrent to our values as a university and a free society.

Last night I met with a group of alumni and students from all three campuses representing the thousands of Muslim women and men who attend or who are graduates of Rutgers. They expressed a deep sense of betrayal, mistrust, frustration, and fear as a result of the NYPD’s alleged actions and the lack of information that has been forthcoming about the legal basis or purpose of these alleged activities. They are concerned about whether they can ever feel safe from unwarranted and unjustified police surveillance because of their religious beliefs and the practice of their faith. They told me about students who are now reluctant to attend Muslim Student Association meetings, and about some whose parents are forbidding them to participate in this faith-based student organization out of concern for having police files maintained on their children. 

Today I wrote to New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, whom Governor Christie has asked to investigate the NYPD’s activities, offering Rutgers’ support of the investigation. As I stated in my letter, members of the law enforcement community have a difficult job in ensuring the safety of our citizens. While I do not know all of the circumstances surrounding the activities of the NYPD, it is critical for the integrity and effectiveness of law enforcement and for the reassurance of our Muslim students and alumni that they are not subjected to surveillance solely because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity. They enjoy the same rights as every other member of the university community and they must be treated accordingly. 

Should the investigation reveal that the NYPD acted outside of the proper protocols and in violation of our students’ civil rights, then we will insist that action be taken by the appropriate authorities to address that conduct and to make sure it does not happen again.

Our Muslim community is a vibrant and valued part of Rutgers. These men and women are hard-working students, dedicated faculty and staff, and successful alumni who contribute to the economic and civic strength of our state. They also contribute to the diversity of our university community, which is an essential component of the Rutgers student experience and a point of pride for the university. It is a hollow diversity, however, if we cannot proudly and openly express ourselves but instead have to suppress our identity out of concern for our safety.

Rutgers defends the rights of all our students to freely associate, to speak openly, and to practice their faith without fear that they will be targeted because of it.

Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey