Academic Freedom, Terrorism, and the NYPD

by Nathan Harden

In my column this week, I reflect on the reactions of leading academics to the news that the NYPD has been monitoring Muslim student groups:

After news emerged in February that the NYPD has been monitoring Muslim student groups at more than a dozen universities in the New York area, academic leaders at the schools involved condemned the surveillance as a case of racial and religious stereotyping. Instead, they ought to be thanking the NYPD for doing its job, which is to prevent catastrophic terrorist attacks, thereby preserving the liberty that allows the academic enterprise to exist in the first place.

Criticism from academic leaders was as unanimous as it was unfounded. City College of New York said it did not “accept or condone” the investigation. A Columbia spokesman suggested it “could chill our essential values of academic freedom.” At Cornell, the dean of students complained that Muslim students felt “targeted.” Yale University President Richard C. Levin said, “Police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale.”

. . . The most aggressive activity appears to be a case in which an undercover officer accompanied a group of Muslim students on a whitewater rafting trip in 2008. Judging from academic leaders’ reactions, one would have thought it was a case of waterboarding, not water rafting. It’s hard to see how students suffered. Maybe next time the NYPD will take Muslim students rock climbing or hang-gliding, or some other fun-filled activity.

Faced with the difficult challenge of keeping people safe in the post-9/11 world, it’s the job of police to do everything within their power to prevent an attack. One can debate the usefulness of the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering strategies, but there is nothing illegal about them. Ultimately, we should judge the police on the basis of their effectiveness, not on their willingness to bow to the dictates of political correctness…

These grumbling academics fail to recognize that the extraordinary deference they extend to America’s enemies is not something the extremists would extend to them. I suspect our nation’s liberal academic professionals would be some of the first to be persecuted under a radical Islamic regime.

Academic freedom is a byproduct of political freedom. Elite academics who make their living off the former should not be so quick to impugn those whose job it is to protect the latter.

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Phi Beta Cons

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