On May 6, 2008, in the largest drug operation on a college campus in U.S. history, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that after a six-month-long undercover investigation on the campus of San Diego State University (SDSU)–one of the largest schools in California’s state university system, with approximately 34,000 students–96 people had been arrested, including 75 students, on state and federal drug distribution charges. Operation Sudden Fall targeted large-scale marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy distribution at SDSU. It involved the use of police surveillance, including intercepted text messages between university students, along with video surveillance. In addition, undercover police officers posing as college students made more than 130 drug purchases on campus. According to the DEA, the seized evidence included 4 pounds of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, 48 hydroponic marijuana plants, 350 ecstasy pills, 30 vials of hash oil, methamphetamine, psilocybin (mushrooms), various illicit prescription drugs, a shotgun, three semi-automatic pistols, three brass knuckles, and $60,000 in cash.
These types of incidents are more frequently occurring on college campuses across the United States. Over the past several years, due to escalating crime rates on college campuses, police activity at these sites has dramatically increased. According to
Campus Carry, an organization that advocates for the availability of concealed weapons on campuses, 71% of college campuses across the United States are patrolled by armed police officers. In 2008, 13 students were murdered on college campuses across the country. In 2007, 12 student murders occurred–although this statistic does not include the shooting spree at Virginia Tech, which resulted in the deaths of 32 students and the wounding of an additional 21 students. In addition, in 2007, 52,744 alcohol-related arrests, 21,948 drug-related arrests, and 1803 illegal weapons arrests occurred on college and university campuses across the United States. Due to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, better known as the Clery Act (20 USC § 1092(f)), all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs must keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. On August 14, 2008, the Clery Act was amended–largely due to the Virginia Tech shootings–to require college campuses to develop and implement emergency response plans.
Domestic terrorism is also a major issue at U.S. universities today, and is another factor that is leading to an increased police presence on college campuses. To date, ecoterrorists and animal rights extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have been responsible for more than 2,000 crimes and more than $110 million in damages due to bombings and arsons across the United States. On collegiate campuses, these groups have attacked and destroyed laboratories at the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, Louisiana State University, and the University of Wisconsin.
Additionally, law enforcement has gotten involved in cases in which professors have been accused of terrorism. On February 20, 2003, University of South Florida professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian was arrested and charged with raising funds and managing the finances of an international terrorist organization that perpetrates violence, largely in Israel. The Justice Department named Al-Arian as the financial director of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in a 50-count indictment. At the time, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft named the PIJ as one of the most violent terrorist groups in the world. Al-Arian was charged, along with seven other individuals, with operating a racketeering enterprise since 1984 and using charitable and educational organizations as front groups for money laundering for the PIJ. In the wake of these charges, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly called attention to Al-Arian’s sometimes inflammatory speeches.
Al-Arian’s arrest resulted in a backlash against the University of South Florida, with some referring to it as “Jihad University.” The almost immediate result was threats of violence, cancelled classes, and a 5% drop in alumni support. On December 19, 2001, the USF Board of Trustees voted to suspend Al-Arian without pay. In turn, some students rallied to his defense, even circulating petitions for the professor’s reinstatement.
A wiretap on his phone, however, seemed to prove Al-Arian’s guilt. A series of calls, faxes, and bank transactions demonstrated he had been involved with money transfers involving the PIJ, the Iranian and Syrian governments, Hamas, and other sources in Sudan. Records also showed that Al-Arian arranged to obtain false documentation for known terrorists who entered the United States and helped them to avoid government scrutiny. In all, the federal government, using provisions of the USA Patriot Act, gathered 20,000 hours of phone conversations and faxes, some as old as 1993, as evidence against Al-Arian.
On December 7, 2005, Al-Arian was acquitted of conspiracy to aid PIJ. The Tampa jury deliberated for 13 days before rejecting the prosecutor’s arguments. Between 2006 and 2008, Al-Arian was subpoenaed to testify in three terrorism-related investigations. He refused to testify each time and was imprisoned for 13 months for criminal contempt.
The increased use of police and electronic surveillance on college campuses has not gone without criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), citing concerns about free speech on campus, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking details on government surveillance of college professors and students nationwide. The concern is that this type of surveillance will impede academic freedom and stifle the dissent that is a hallmark of campuses across the nation.
- Campus crime statistics: http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/arrests2005-07.pdf
- Citing free speech concerns. (2002). American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/national-security/citing-free-speech-concerns-aclu-ma-seeks-fbi-records-campus-surveillance-activiti
- FBI charges Florida professor with terrorist activities. (2003, February 20). CNN. Retrieved 2010, from http://edition.cnn.com/2003/US/South/02/20/professor.arrest/
- Inside security. (2008). National Association of Colleges and Business Officers. Retrieved from http://asumag.com/security/inside_security_nacubo
- Kay, J. (2005, December 8). Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian acquitted on charges in Florida. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2005/12/aria-d08.html
- Kline, M. (2006, June 29). Eco-terrorism in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.academia.org/eco-terrorism-in-higher-education/
- NSSC works to promote safety on college and university campuses. (n.d.). Retrieved from National School Safety Center: http://www.schoolsafety.us/