In the wake of reports that the New York Police Department monitored the Muslim Students Associations at Yale and other schools, University President Richard Levin emphasized Yale’s support for its MSA on Monday and condemned “police surveillance based on race, religion, nationality or peacefully expressed political opinion.”
Creating an environment that encourages open expression is fundamental to the work of a university, and Levin has a responsibility to protect his students’ ability to speak freely. A segment of the Yale community felt violated on Sunday. Levin was right to place Yale’s weight behind the MSA.
Levin implied that the NYPD’s surveillance was wrong, but did not say so explicitly. Given incomplete information, he was right to leave room for arguments both for and against surveillance of MSAs and to focus broadly on core values. His moralizing, however, tended too far toward the idealistic. Peaceful expression of some political opinions should absolutely merit the concern of a dutiful police force.
Since Levin’s statement, further AP stories have made the NYPD’s excess clear. Undercover NYPD officers investigated the Muslim community of Newark, N.J. in 2007 despite “no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior,” the AP reported yesterday. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained away Levin’s criticism with vague notions that his police are keeping America safe, but the news reveals that Islamophobia is alive and well. We are encouraged to see Yale stand firmly on the side of tolerance.