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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA officials accused of monitoring student groups, faculty

University leadership denies claims of student and faculty surveillance, highlights efforts to support campus safety
Ben Tisdale
A speaker talks at the Walkout for Palestine on Nov. 9, 2023, at the University of Arizona. The event was put on by the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance, the Tucson Peace Center, The Party for Socialism & Liberation and more.

The University of Arizona is facing further criticism in its handling of student demonstrations and free speech after a series of social media posts exposed public records that revealed communications among university leadership about student groups organizing a “Walkout for Palestine” in November of 2023. 

Aura Bogado, an investigative journalist, posted a series of now-viral TikToks and tweets on May 2 discussing this email chain between leadership, including members of the University of Arizona Police Department and Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Ronald Marx. The emails addressed a social media post advertising the walkout and a discussion amongst senior officials about the monitoring of this event and how to draft an appropriate message to faculty and staff preparing them for any disruptions the walkout might cause. 

A point Bogado focused on was the supposed surveillance of different social media accounts, including the Coalition of Black Students and Allies. An email in the records identified by Bogado shows a university official discussing the circulation of posts about the walkout, especially focusing on the COBA Instagram. 

“Looks like it just got picked up by COBA on Instagram which means they are pretty involved. The only positive news for us right now is that their account has been shadow-banned by Instagram so the reach of their posts is really limited,” an email from a university official read.

“The @uarizona is monitoring, retrieving, and storing the social media posts of pro-Palestine groups on campus; in one case, the university’s social media director said it was ‘positive news’ that a Black student group was being shadowbanned by Instagram,” a tweet from Bogado read. 

Mitch Zak, a representative from university communications, called the portrayal of the university’s actions “flat wrong,” saying that officials monitored events related to the university but not the individual accounts of students, faculty, student groups or staff. 

“What we do, much like any organization, is we monitor the University of Arizona […], this can include everything from our faculty members winning awards, to athletes, to seminars to a big event. We focus every day to kind of know what’s going on across the university so that we can be aware of anything. As it relates to the issues regarding the protests after October 7, obviously, that was a highly charged time, and one of the things that we take very, very seriously […] is safety,” Zak said. “And safety means two things. In this instance, obviously the safe ability of students to gather on campus and the opportunity for them to express themselves without fear.”

Another concern referenced by Bogado was that, in these email conversations, a university official had mentioned a shared Box drive wherein different social media posts were downloaded and saved. 

“It’s really eye-opening to see how the university is fixated on cataloging each and every single post it finds about pro-Palestine rallies and protests. And part of what’s unclear is where exactly this is being stored, who has access to it, and for how long,” Bogado said in a TikTok. 

Zak justified this storage, saying that filing these posts in this way allows university officials to be able to share the same information despite what social media accounts they may have access to. 

“The reason for that is, as you might imagine, not everybody has every social network. We can’t even use TikTok on campus. And there’s a discrepancy whether some folks you know, are on Instagram, they’re on Twitter, they’re on Facebook. And so what we do is we download them so we can share them,” Zak said. “So the point is I can share a post with you, even if you don’t have the network in that regard. So it’s simply a function of us being able to share information across campus. So there’s awareness. You know, it’s nothing more than that.”

As demonstrations across campus continue, students, faculty members and staff have expressed concerns about repercussions for expressing their beliefs, especially in the aftermath of last week’s protest that turned violent with law enforcement deploying physical tactics. 

Students Against Apartheid released a statement on May 2 that condemned the university’s response to the pro-Palestinian encampment, calling it an instance of “state repression.”

“The message of the President and the University is clear: advocating for the values of integrity, compassion, and justice that the University claims to teach will be punished violently,” the statement read.

Zak said the university remains focused on prioritizing the safety of students while also creating a safe environment for free speech, a mission he noted is furthered by the UA’s campus use policy.

“As a public university, we are committed to the core values of inclusion, ensuring students, faculty, staff and visitors, you know, can exercise their free speech rights on campus. That is our top priority, along with safety and again […] we do not monitor anything other than the university and what goes on here because, again, we want to be able to celebrate all the positives, and we want to make sure we protect our students and our faculty and our staff when issues arise,” Zak said.

The final email, the draft of which was one of the main subjects of this exposed email chain, released to faculty in preparation for the Nov. 9 event, read: 

“Dear Colleagues, 

I want to make you aware of an event planned for Thursday afternoon that could disrupt some classes on the main campus. 

As part of a larger effort across the nation, a Walkout for Palestine event is planned at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. As the name indicates, the event encourages students to walk out of class, and then to participate in a rally at Old Main followed by a march. Faculty should feel free to follow their normal attendance guidelines for students who choose to leave or miss class. 

The University has a long history of embracing and protecting free speech and expression, and we encourage our students (and the broader community) to make their voices heard peacefully and civilly. 

Finally, be assured that the Office of Public Safety, including the University of Arizona Police Department, is aware of and prepared for the event. 

Sincerely, Ronald W. Marx 

Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost 

The University of Arizona”​​​​​

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