New developments make it evident that MSU officials were acting in the universitys best interest when they approved an undercover investigation of a student group. However, the administrations response to the situation since the story has become known could have been more honest.
University officials announced Tuesday the 1999 Agriculture Hall arson was a factor in the undercover investigation by MSU police of Students for Economic Justice, formerly known as United Students Against Sweatshops. This is the fifth reason officials have given for the investigation. Earlier, protests in Seattle and the sit-in at University of Wisconsin-Madison were cited.
The fire in Agriculture Hall caused about $400,000 in damage to a fourth-floor office of a genetically-engineered crop program. A radical environmentalist group, the Earth Liberation Front, claimed responsibility for the arson.
Officials also announced Tuesday that a three-member independent review panel will examine the undercover investigation. The panel will report its findings publicly by fall semester.
MSU President M. Peter McPherson and university spokesman Terry Denbow sat down with the State News Editorial Board to discuss the issue Tuesday. McPherson said there were many details of the investigation he is not permitted to discuss because of the ongoing investigation of the arson.
Knowing the undercover investigation of SEJ was motivated by an investigation into an on-campus arson, it is clear that MSU police and McPherson acted in the interest of student safety. It is the responsibility of the administration to help protect the university and its community and its actions to do so are commendable. An investigation is justifiable if it served to protect the MSU community from a true violent threat.
However, the administrations response to the incident once the investigation became public should have been handled better. While officials cannot help that they are barred from revealing many details, they should not have given so many other reasons to confuse the situation.
Honesty is key in a relationship between university administration, police and students. Officials should have announced from the beginning that they could not fully explain the infiltration because of an investigation. Although the whole truth could not, and still cant, be revealed, the administration should have been honest with the MSU community about the situation from the very first allegation.
The new information revealed about the police infiltration of SEJ makes it easier to understand university officials motivation to conduct this type of investigation. It is now clear McPherson and others acted in the best interest of MSU and its students.
However, the administrations confusing explanation of the investigation is not acceptable. To truly have an open and healthy student-administration relationship, both parties must be honest, even if that means explaining that you cant tell.