Guest Commentary

Is Big Brother watching student activists at the University of Arizona?

About twice a month, somewhere between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., you can find a small group of political activists clustered in a room on the third floor of the UA's Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building. This group of individuals, largely composed of UA graduate students and left-leaning members of the Tucson community, is known as the Tucson chapter of World Can't Wait/Refuse and Resist, a nationwide activist collective dedicated to the removal of the Bush regime.

Although the group has been active on the UA campus for more than four years, and has conducted multiple rallies and marches without incident, the UA administration and UA Police Department have deemed these individuals worthy of police surveillance.

In November 2006, the group was invited by the UA Debate Club to take part in a debate on the curtailment of civil liberties in the post-Sept. 11 United States. The debate was set to take place in the Alumni Plaza on Nov. 17.

WCW/RR mistakenly posted the date of the event on their Web site as Nov. 10. Following the erroneous posting, Diane Newman, program coordinator at UA Mall Services, received a phone call from UAPD Det. Dana McReynolds. According to Newman, McReynolds was concerned that WCW/RR were planning to disrupt a homecoming event that was scheduled to take place in the plaza that day. Newman then called WCW/RR Steering Committee Member Stephanie Woods and demanded to know what the group was planning.

Det. McReynolds also contacted the head of the UA Debate Club, Tawfik Maudah, demanding to know what the groups were up to.

In an open letter sent to UA President Robert Shelton on Nov. 14, WCW/RR voiced their concerns over the incident. "We are simply outraged that the UAPD is monitoring our Web site. Such surveillance is a tactic appropriate for a police state, not a university. We feel quite adamantly that such monitoring, of us or any other group, should stop immediately."

Initially, the UAPD denied any such monitoring. When asked why one of their detectives was making inquiries into the group's actions, UAPD refused to comment, and deferred all inquiries regarding the investigation to Shelton.

Shelton has not made himself available for comment.

The roots of this type of action may possibly be traced back to the UA Faculty Senate minutes of May 5, 2003, wherein the group discussed plans to develop and implement a "central tracking system administered by the Dean of Students Office"--also known as the Student Information System--as well as a "Student Behavior Assessment Committee."

(Senator): "Why is this Student Behavior Assessment Committee needed at all, since we already have the student disciplinary procedures?

"(Associate Dean of Students Veda) Kowalski responded that the faculty wanted a body made up of faculty, staff and professionals in various areas, such as police, that will review and talk specifically about student threatening behavior on campus and advise the Dean of Students Office about issues of level of threat and risk and impact on the community, and advise Kowalski." Kowalski asserts that this system has not resulted in any action involving WCW/RR members.

On Jan 17, 2007, once the holidays had passed and classes had resumed, WCW/RR sent another letter to Shelton, reiterating the concerns voiced in their original letter, again "demanding" a meeting with Shelton himself.

The next day, the group received a response from Shelton: "I understand from your very direct e-mails that you 'demand' a meeting. I will do my best to accommodate; however, I ask that you recognize my calendar that gets booked heavily well in advance."

WCW/RR responded immediately, requesting that Shelton name three dates that would work with his schedule.Shelton has yet to respond. Meanwhile, the actions of the UA administration and UAPD have had a definite chilling effect. The numbers of active members in WCW/RR has dwindled. What remains today is a demoralized skeleton crew.

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