Saturday, December 4, 2021

No trust in U

Were there political motives behind the SEJ infiltration?

Relations between MSU police and students will be further strained with President M. Peter McPherson’s approval of an undercover investigation of Students for Economic Justice, then called United Students Against Sweatshops.

Beginning in February 2000, MSU police Officer Jamie Gonzales posed as elementary education junior Samantha Volare and attended SEJ meetings so she could observe meetings and activities.

McPherson told The State News last Thursday of his approval of the investigation. His intentions to uncover the actions of the group are understandable, but could have been addressed in a different manner.

During World Bank protests in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, a few SEJ members were arrested for civil disobedience, although no significant reasons for surveillance by police occurred in East Lansing.

McPherson should have admitted he knew of the infiltration of SEJ earlier. Because he was not completely honest with students, he now has to understand he has lost the trust of students involved and others.

While the threat of violence is a good reason to investigate a group, the manner in which SEJ was investigated was inappropriate. At the ASMSU meeting Thursday, MSU police Chief Bruce Benson stated Gonzales was sent in because of the protests in Seattle and the later activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

With the lack of trust this situation has caused between students and the administration, it is hard to not question whether the investigation was politically motivated. During the Reagan administration, McPherson was chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, an agency working with the World Bank on several occasions.

In the Nov. 5, 1985, edition of The Christian Science Monitor, McPherson’s future with the World Bank was questioned. “There is speculation that he would like to run for Congress, that he is a candidate for a United Nations post, or that he would like to head the World Bank.”

It is not only the ties McPherson has to the World Bank in his career that add suspicion to his motives to infiltrate SEJ, but it is the way it has been handled by all involved, not just MSU’s president.

In a meeting with the ASMSU Student Assembly on Thursday, MSU police Chief Bruce Benson said it was the first undercover investigation he was aware of in his 15 years with the MSU police. Logically, one would assume there would be some paperwork involved. However, in a Freedom of Information Act request by The State News, the Department of Police and Public Safety denied having any records of the undercover operation.

Relations between students and the administration have only become worse because of this incident. Administrators were not open in their involvement in this investigation and since it has become obvious they were aware of it, they have lost the trust of MSU students.

McPherson’s decision to monitor the activities of SEJ have caused student and administrator relations to deteriorate and trust to be broken down. And it will not likely improve anytime soon.

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