Last week, members of a Michigan State University student anti-sweatshop group discovered that a “student” in the group was really an undercover officer from the campus police force. Members of the group reported that Jamie Gonzales, an campus police officer, had told Students for Economic Justice that she was an elementary education junior. Gonzales, who told group members that her name was Samantha Volare, had been active in the group”s activities since mid-February.
Michigan State police attributed the infiltration to concerns that violence would erupt during the visit of a commencement speaker, World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Members of the organization had participated in the World Bank protests in Seattle in 1999.
It is inexcusable that the Michigan State police would send an officer to infiltrate a student group. To link students participating in protests to the possibility of planned violence at commencement exercises is a ridiculous and illogical leap. Not only is sending an undercover officer into a student group unethical, it is an act of bad faith on the part of the police department one that will surely hinder student groups” relations with Michigan State.
Although University of Michigan spokeswoman Diane Brown said the Department of Public Safety does not have any officer dedicated to monitoring student groups, the University”s past record on keeping tabs on student activists is questionable.
In the 1950s, “60s, and “70s, Daily investigations revealed the University administration knew about FBI agents monitoring students on campus. Their monitoring activities included planting agents within groups like Students for a Democratic Society, in order to keep closer tabs on their activities.
In 1970, student activists who occupied North Hall for 33 hours that October discovered that the University”s ROTC program was keeping extensive files on student activists. Although these instances of secret monitoring occurred years ago, in order to maintain good relations between the University and its students, the administration and police should ensure never to interfere with student organizations.
What Michigan State police officers did can only shake students” faith in the university. Hopefully, the University of Michigan long ago realized that infiltration of student groups is unethical and won”t go unnoticed. The successful detective work of students both recently at Michigan State and decades ago at this university at the very least shows that undercover agents in student groups will be exposed.
The administrations of both Michigan State and the University of Michigan should publically commit to making sure investigations like these do not happen in the future.