“Recently released documents from the U.S. Department of Defense confirm prior media reports that, in the name of investigating terrorist threats, government agencies have monitored activities at law schools throughout the country, including NYU School of Law. The monitored activities involve protests of the military’s policy against hiring gay and lesbian law students for the Judge Advocate General Corps or other legal positions with the armed services. These protests have occurred primarily during visits to our campus by military recruiters.

“These reports are both distressing and disappointing. They are distressing in that they reveal disrespect for the traditional role that universities, and law schools in particular, play in providing an environment for critical thought and robust discussion of socially important issues. Government surveillance of those involved in peaceful and Constitutionally protected activities, including forums in which all sides of the debate about military hiring policies are represented, can only chill the conversation that universities are obligated to foster.

“The reports are disappointing because they reveal a remarkable misallocation of our nation’s resources. At a time when security concerns are paramount in the minds of all Americans, especially New Yorkers who have suffered the consequences of security lapses, we are disheartened to discover that our officials deem it appropriate to dedicate their scarce resources to the surveillance of students whose objective is to increase opportunities for capable men and women to serve their country. Equally disappointing is the mischaracterization of the participants in these protests. The released reports describe the participants as potential ‘vigilantes’ who might foster physical harm or vandalism. In fact, student protestors– while making their views clearly known – have consistently conducted themselves in a peaceful manner and have worked with security officials at the University to ensure that their protests do not interfere with our academic mission. As a result, these protests have enjoyed the support of the faculty and administration of the law school.

“The Solicitor General of the United States recently recognized in the oral argument in Rumsfeld v. FAIR that law schools ‘could put signs on bulletin board[s] …, they could engage in speech, they could help organize student protests.’ It is unacceptable that such protest activities, which lie at the core of the values that the First Amendment is designed to protect, should subject students to surveillance designed to combat terrorism. And it certainly seems ironic that precisely the activities cited by one part of the Executive branch – the Justice Department’s Solicitor General – as supporting the government’s legal case should be viewed by another part – the Defense Department – as some sort of threat.

“NYU School of Law is, of course, pleased to cooperate with all government agencies, including the military, in pursuing the legitimate objectives of law enforcement and counterintelligence. But the collection and retention of information about demonstrations does not fall into this category, as was recognized by the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Counterintelligence and Security in a letter to Senator John Warner. We object to this abuse of the government’s authority and urge an immediate cessation of such activities and the purging of the records. We also insist on knowing the scope of the government’s monitoring of the activities of students and personnel at the School of Law. Towards this end, we have filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act. We will consider what subsequent steps are appropriate after reviewing the results of that request.”

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