Students at CSUF are Starving for Civil Liberties
By Mike Rhodes
April 27, 2005
At least 13 students at CSU-Fresno started a 48 hour fast today because they say their civil liberties have been violated. The students are concerned because undercover law enforcement officers have been used to monitor an event the group held on campus and they believe the administration is lying about it. Official statements from the universities public relations department, statements made by the campus police chief, and numerous emails from CSUF president John Welty do not agree on what happened during a presentation given by Gary Yourofsky, which was held on November 10, 2004. Yourofsky is one of the foremost animal rights lecturers in the United States.
Ruth Obel-Jorgensen says that her civil liberties have been violated and academic freedom is in jeopardy at CSUF. Obel-Jorgensen is the president of the Campus Peace and Civil Liberties Coalition. Her group held the event featuring Yourofsky on campus. The topic was veganism, which is a type of vegetarianism. Obel-Jorgensen said that her group was surprised to learn that there were undercover law enforcement officers attending the event.
At a press conference held on April 6, 2005, students, faculty, and community supporters demanded an end to undercover operations at student events, an apology from the university for engaging in the spying operation, and an opening of campus police files. The group wants to know what files the campus police department has on student activists. You can read about the press conference and the initial revelation of spying on this campus group here: http://sfbay.indymedia.org/news/2005/04/1731753.php
Before the press conference, Campus Peace and Civil Liberties Coalition
students had several meetings with CSUF police chief David Huerta to try to sort
this issue out. Ruth Obel-Jorgensen remembered one meeting where Huerta
"looked me straight in the eye, reiterating that he was an honest man and a
man of integrity. He urged me to trust him and assured me that I would
see that he was a man of his word. He stated specifically that there were not undercover campus officers at the event and that he would not send undercover campus officers because he felt it was a covert action. Chief Huerta stated that one of his goals was to reach out to the student body to form a trusting relationship."
On April 18, 2005, CSUF president John Welty sent the Community Alliance newspaper the following statement:
"The University does not and will not engage in surveillance of
University activities using undercover police officers. Should such surveillance
be deemed necessary by any law enforcement entity, it is expected that the
University President or his designee will be notified
of the need for such surveillance.
At a campus club event on November 10, 2004, the University Police Department assigned two uniformed police officers for event security. No plainclothes university officials were present. The purpose of uniformed officers was to ensure safety at the event, as the university does for many campus events ranging from athletics, to Vintage Days, to dances and concerts. University plainclothes officers can and have been used at university events for security purposes only. Such was not the case on November 10th."
A few days later Welty corrected the above statement and admitted that undercover campus police officers did attend the lecture on veganism. Welty said, "There were three Fresno State police officers at the event in plainclothes . . . They were present to maintain the safety of the event. The campus routinely used both plainclothes and uniformed officers at a wide variety of on-campus events for safety."
Not only did the CSUF administration confirm that they had three undercover officers attending the lecture of a campus group, but the April 18 statement also reveled that there were three additional undercover law enforcement officers from the Fresno County Sheriff’s department at the event. There were only about 60 people at the November 10 event. There were six confirmed undercover officers—at least 10% of the audience at this event were undercover law enforcement officers.
On April 21, 2005, students, faculty, and community allies held a very animated and loud rally in front of the campus police station at CSU-Fresno. They were demanding that the administration tell the truth about police infiltration of campus groups; they also wanted an apology for the damage that has been done, and an opening up of campus police records to see if files are being maintained on campus activists. To see the full story about this rally go here: http://sfbay.indymedia.org/news/2005/04/1734323.php
When asked if the University police maintained files on campus activists, Dr. Welty wrote, "There are no records regarding individual students as a result of this event." Does Welty’s statement leave open the possibility that the University police have records of student activists that are not related to that specific event?
Ruth Obel-Jorgensen wonders, if the police and the University administration don’t think that it is wrong to spy on students, why have they lied and repeatedly changed their story. "The students need a public apology! Not only have we had our civil liberties and academic freedom violated, we have been lied to! The least we deserve is an apology," Obel-Jorgensen said.
After today’s press conference the university released another press release, including yet another version of what happened on November 10, 2004. This statement says "The university has informed the campus group that there was no surveillance, but rather the university did have three plainclothes university police officers to ensure safety at the public event." The statement included nothing about the three undercover officers from the Sheriff’s department and denies that the campus undercover police were engaged in an intelligence gathering operation.
Mark Schlosberg, the Police Practices Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was at the press conference. Schlosberg was there to announce that the ACLU and Campus Peace and Civil Liberties have filed a Public Records Act request with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI following statements by university officials that there were several plainclothes police officers present at the Yourofsky lecture. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department is currently under investigation by the California Attorney General’s office following disclosures that the department infiltrated Peace Fresno in 2003. A copy of the FOIA request, the Public Records Act request, and a copy of the letter the ACLU sent to president John Welty, is available at: http://www.aclunc.orghttp://www.aclunc.org/pressrel/050427-fresno.html .
The students at CSUF are determined to find out the truth about police infiltration at their events. They are demanding an apology from the university for the violation of their civil liberties and the affront to academic freedom. They want a review of campus police practices that led to this situation and they want to know what files the campus police department have on student activists.
The students are currently fasting and camping out in front of the Thomas Administration building. Supporters are welcome anytime and there will be a potluck and community celebration on Friday, April 29 at 1 PM, when the students end their fast.