Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg faced off with the president of Yale University on Tuesday over an effort by the city's police department to monitor Muslim student groups for any signs that their members harbored terrorist sympathies.
The Associated Press revealed over the weekend that in recent years the New York Police Department has kept close watch on Muslim student associations across the Northeast, including one at the University at Buffalo.
The effort included daily tracking of student websites and blogs, monitoring who was speaking to the groups and sending an undercover officer on a whitewater rafting trip with students from the City College of New York.
Yale President Richard Levin was among a number of academics who condemned the effort in a statement Monday, while Rutgers University and leaders of student Muslim groups elsewhere, including Buffalo, called for investigations into the monitoring.
"I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States," Levin wrote.
But Bloomberg, speaking to reporters Tuesday, dismissed those criticisms.
"I don't know why keeping the country safe is antithetical to the values of Yale," he said.
He said it was ridiculous to argue that there was anything wrong with officers keeping an eye on websites that are available to the general public.
"Of course we're going to look at anything that's publicly available in the public domain," he said. "We have an obligation to do so, and it is to protect the very things that let Yale survive."
Asked by a reporter if he thought it was a "step too far" to send undercover investigators to accompany students on rafting vacations, Bloomberg said: "No. We have to keep this country safe.
"It's very cute to go and blame everybody and say we should stay away from anything that smacks of intelligence gathering," he said. "The job of our law enforcement is to make sure that they prevent things. And you only do that by being proactive."
Bloomberg, an independent, added that he believed that police officers had respected people's privacy and obeyed the law.
The University at Buffalo said in a statement that it "does not conduct this kind of surveillance, and, if asked, UB would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request. As a public university, UB strongly supports the values of freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, and a reasonable expectation of privacy."