On Electronic Surveillance

Letter to President Sexton: Regarding Electronic Surveillance

November 10, 2005

From the members of Faculty Democracy.

Dear President Sexton,

We are writing to protest to the strongest degree possible that various CAS administrators (for example, Associate Deans Otto Sonntag and Richard Kalb), program directors, and Directors Of Undergraduate Studies (DUGS) have been added, evidently by administrative fiat and without permission or notice to the faculty, to the online Blackboard membership lists of various courses at the university. These administrators were therefore able to access electronic communication between professors, teaching assistants, and students officially registered for those courses. Moreover, names of some DUGS were added to the Blackboard lists for courses without their knowledge or permission so they now appear to
serve the university’s electronic surveillance network. According to the NYU network user agreement, anyone who monitors network communication without permission is in violation of NYU policy, including the administrators who were enabled to follow Blackboard communication for professors’ and teaching assistants’ classes.

We would like answers to these questions: under whose authority were these administrators acting? Who decided on which courses and/or professors should be opened to surveillance? How does the administration plan to sanction those responsible for the
intrusion into academic privacy? What will the administration do to ensure that this type of behavior will not, and cannot, recur?

We consider this seizing of access to the communication between professors and their registered students to be an intensely unethical act, one that is in the deepest violation of academic freedom. At our meeting with you on Tuesday, you tried to assure us that your primary identity at the university was as a proud member of the faculty, but it is hard for us to believe that anyone committed to faculty rights and governance, and academic freedom (especially in the arena of classroom pedagogy) would countenance practices of this sort. These are acts of invasive intimidation. You suggested at our the same meeting that your opposition to the unionization of graduate students at NYU was a measure of your principled devotion to the sanctity of the academic process, and yet the university’s effort
to resist that unionization have now evidently compromised the most basic principles defending that process. You also suggested that the various parties in this struggle no doubt were not acting from mendacity, but for outsiders to secretly listen in on the
communications of a class is mendacious in the extreme.

The principle of safe space – in terms of a classroom ethic of mutual respect, in terms of specific anti-harassment rules, and in terms of instructors’ duty to seek consent before sharing any privileged communications or materials – is a principle that we all work painstakingly to establish in our classrooms. Indeed, it is fundamental to establishing the basis for a functioning class.

Opening of Blackboard lists to administrative surveillance compromises principles of free conversation and exchange perennially enjoyed not only by faculty, but undergraduate students
as well.

Nothing so confirms that academic workers at this university need protection and representation of their own choosing (such as the protection afforded to graduate students by a union) as this single egregious act, which goes against the foundational principles of higher education as well as those of a democratic and open society.

We spoke to you in our Tuesday meeting of the deep wounds that the administration’s refusal to negotiate is causing the university. Now we must add the outrage we feel at this terrible and shameful act of misconduct. Faculty trust in the administration’s good faith has been irreparably damaged, and we have little confidence in the university administration’s ability to lead us out of this crisis. We urge a rapid effort to resolve this dispute with the graduate students before matters pass the point of no return in the university as a whole.


Thomas Abercrombie, Anthropology, FAS

Gerard Aching, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Rodolfo Aiello, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Gwendolyn Alker, Drama, TSOA

Julian Everett Allgood, Bobst Library

Edwin Amenta, Sociology, FAS

Emily Apter, French, FAS

John Archer, English, FAS

Adam Becker, Classics and Religious Studies, FAS

Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, History, FAS

Thomas Bender, History, FAS

Amy Bentley, Nutrition, Food, and Public Health, Steinhardt

Lauren Benton, History, FAS

Edward Berenson, History and French Studies, FAS

Renee Blake, Linguistics, FAS

Eliot Borenstein, Russian and Slavic, FAS

Neil Brenner, Sociology and Metropolitan Studies, FAS

David Brimmer, Drama, TSOA

Barbara Browning, Performance Studies, TSOA

Joy Gould Boyum, Humanities Education, Steinhardt

Jane Burbank, History, FAS

Craig Calhoun, Sociology, FAS

Eduardo Capulong, Lawyering Program, Law School

Herrick Chapman, History and French Studies, FAS

Vivek Chibber, Sociology, FAS

Robby Cohen, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Jan Cohen-Cruz, Drama, TSOA

Christopher Collins, English, FAS

Joy Connolly, Classics, FAS

Frederick Cooper, History, FAS

Catherine Coray, Drama, TSOA

Nina Cornyetz, Gallatin

Pam Crabtree, Anthropology, FAS

Patricia Crain, English, FAS

Suzanne Cusick, Music, FAS

Laura Daigen-Ayala, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Arlene Davila, American Studies and Anthropology, FAS

Patrick Deer, English, FAS

Mark Dery, Journalism, FAS

Dipti Desai, Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt

Angela Dillard, Gallatin

Carolyn Dinshaw, Gender and Sexuality and English, FAS

EL Doctorow, English, FAS

Georgina Dopico Black, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Ana Dopico, Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Thomas Drysdale, Drama, TSOA

Lisa Duggan, American Studies and Gender and Sexuality, FAS

Stephen Duncombe, Gallatin

Troy Duster, Sociology, FAS

Ada Ferrer, History, FAS

Hartry Field, Philosophy, FAS

Alla Fil, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Sybille Fischer, Spanish & Portuguese, FAS

JoEllen Fisherkeller, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Miriam Frank,General Studies, SCPS

Elaine Freedgood, English, FAS

Sharon Friedman, Gallatin

Everett Frost, Film and Television, TSOA

Norm Fruchter, Education Policy, Steinhardt

Brett Gary, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Kathleen Gerson, Sociology, FAS

Faye Ginsburg, Anthropology and Culture and Media, FAS

Jeff Goodwin, Sociology, FAS

Linda Gordon, History, FAS

Manu Goswami, History, FAS

Greg Grandin, History, FAS

Adam Green, American Studies, and History, FAS

Ed Guerrero, Cinema Studies, TSOA and Africana Studies, FAS

Douglas Guthrie, Sociology, FAS

Sally Guttmacher, Health Studies, Steinhardt

Yukiko Hanawa, East Asian Studies, FAS

Lynne Haney, Sociology, FAS

Phillip Brian Harper, American Studies and English, FAS

Harry Harootunian, East Asian Studies and History, FAS

Martin Harries, English, FAS

Christine Harrington, Politics, FAS

Vicki Hart, Drama, TSOA

Barbara Heyns, Sociology, FAS

Robert Hinton, Africana Studies, FAS

Martha Hodes, History, FAS

Ruth Horowitz, Sociology, FAS

Philip Hosay, International Education, Steinhardt

Diana Hughes, Psychology, FAS

Kathy Hull, General Studies, SCPS

Steve Hutkins, Gallatin

Virginia Jackson, English, FAS

Walter Johnson, American Studies and History, FAS

Marion Kaplan, Hebrew and Judaic Studies, FAS

Rebecca Karl, History and East Asian Studies, FAS

Eric Klinenberg, Sociology, FAS

Terry Knickerbocker, Drama, TSOA

Barbara Krauthamer, History, FAS

Karen Kupperman, History, FAS

Andrew Lee, Bobst Library

Zachary Lockman, Middle Eastern Studies and History, FAS

Laurence Lockridge, English, FAS

Michele Lowrie, Classics, FAS

Robert Lubar, Institute of Fine Arts, GSAS

Steven Lukes, Sociology, FAS

Richard Maisel, Sociology, FAS

Robert Malgady, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Jane Malmo, Drama, TSOA

Julie Malnig, Gallatin,

Emily Martin, Anthropology, FAS

Randy Martin, Art and Public Policy, TSOA

Paul Mattingly, History, FAS

John Mayher, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

John Maynard, English, FAS

Anna McCarthy, Cinema Studies, TSOA

Robert McChesney, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, FAS

Micki McGee, Draper Program, FAS

Elizabeth McHenry, English, FAS

Sally Merry, Anthropology, FAS

Mark Crispin Miller, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Toby Miller, American Studies and CLACS, FAS

Bella Mirabella, Gallatin

Nicholas Mirzoeff, Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt

Timothy Mitchell, Politics and Middle Eastern Studies, FAS

Sylvia Molloy, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Harvey Molotch, Metropolitan Studies and Sociology, FAS

Jairo Moreno, Music, FAS

Jim Morgan, Fine Arts, FAS

Jose Munoz, Performance Studies, FAS

Judith Némethy, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Eugène Nicole, French, FAS

Lara Nielsen, Drama, TSOA

Molly Nolan, History, FAS

Pedro Noquera, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Lorie Novak, Photography and Imaging, TSOA

Bertell Ollman, Politics, FAS

Christopher Otter, History, FAS

Crystal Parikh, American Studies and English, FAS

Carol Parness, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Cyrus Patell, English, FAS

Michael Peachin, Classics, FAS

Marta Chaves Peixoto, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Ann Pellegrini, Religious Studies, FAS, and Performance Studies, TSOA.

Kimberly Phillips-Fein, Gallatin

Dana Polan, Cinema Studies, TSOA

Mary Louise Pratt, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Arvind Rajagopal, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Rayna Rapp, Anthropology, FAS

Nancy Regalado, French, FAS

Timothy Reiss, Comparative Literature, FAS

Fred Ritchin, Photography and Imaging, TSOA

Moss Roberts, East Asian Studies, FAS

Susan Rogers, Anthropology, FAS

Avital Ronell, German, FAS

Renato Rosaldo, Latino Studies and Anthropology, FAS

Andrew Ross, American Studies, FAS

Kristin Ross, Comparative Literature, FAS

Kathleen Ross, Spanish and Portugese, FAS

Jeffrey Sammons, History, FAS

Sukhdev Sandhu, A/P/A and English, FAS

Martin Schain, Politics and European Studies; FAS

Ned Seeman, Chemistry, FAS

Richard Sennett, Sociology, FAS

William Serrin, Journalism, FAS

Svati Shah, Gender and Sexuality, FAS

Karen Shimakawa, Performance Studies, TSOA and A/P/A, FAS

Beth Shinn, Psychology, FAS

Ella Shohat, Art and Public Policy, TSOA, and Middle Eastern Studies,

Patrick Shrout, Psychology, FAS

George Shulman, Gallatin

Richard Sieburth, Comparative Literature and French, FAS

William Simon, Cinema Studies, TSOA

John Singler, Linguistics, FAS

Lok Siu, A/P/A and Anthropology, FAS

Robert Sklar, Cinema Studies, TSOA

Trika Smith-Burke, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Alan Sokal, Physics, FAS

Jeffrey Spear, English, FAS

Judith Stacey, Gender and Sexuality and Sociology, FAS

Robert Stam, Cinema Studies, TSOA

Mitchell Stephens, Journalism, FAS

Guenther Stotzky, Biology, FAS

Lisa M. Stulberg, Humanities and Social Sciences, Steinhardt

Marita Sturken, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Eduardo Subirats, Spanish and Portuguese, FAS

Constance Sutton, Anthropology, FAS

Diana Taylor, Performance Studies, TSOA

Jack Tchen, A/P/A and Gallatin

Paul Thompson, Film and Television, TSOA

Sinclair Thomson, History, FAS

Elayne Tobin, General Studies, SCPS

Diana Turk, Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt

Jim Uleman, Psychology, FAS

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Keith Vincent, Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies, FAS

Robert Vorlicky, Drama, TSOA

Joanna Waley-Cohen, History, FAS

Daniel Walkowitz, History and Metropolitan Studies, FAS

Bryan Waterman, English

Marc Walters, Chemistry, FAS

John Waters, English, FAS

Ellen Willis, Journalism, FAS

Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Psychology and Public Policy, FAS

Marilyn Young, History, FAS

George Yudice, American Studies and CLACS, FAS

Caitlin Zaloom, Metropolitan Studies and American Studies, FAS

Xudong Zhang, Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies, FAS

Edward Ziter, Drama, TSOA

Angela Zito, Religious Studies and Anthropology, FAS

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