Sexual Misconduct Policy

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Columbia's Gender-Based Misconduct Policies (commonly referred to as its Sexual Misconduct Policy) governs the University's disciplinary practices in response to complaints about sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence. It has been a source of controversy for years.


First Attempt at Implementation of University-wide Policy (1991-1995)

Prior to the implementation of a university-wide policy, complaints were handled by panels of deans from the student's school, leading to inconsistent adjudication, in a process known as Dean's Discipline - the same mechanism used for academic and other discipline. By 1994, Columbia was the only Ivy League school without even a university-wide definition of sexual assault, let alone a uniform policy. The process of implementing changes to school policies kicked off in November 1991, when Provost Jonathan Cole appointed a task force to advise on the issue.[1] The Task Force released a set of recommendations in September 1993.[2] Among critiques of the recommendations included the inclusion of students on a five member judicial panel.[3] Following a review of the Provost' Task Force's report, the University Senate formed its own task force for drafting a policy. In April of 1994, the Spectator ran an eight page pull-out on the issue, including a survey in which just over 14% of 156 surveyed women on campus said that they had been sexually assaulted while a student.[4] The Senate Task Force released its report and a draft policy in November 1994.[5] It too was scrutinized and revised.[6] A major issue was whether lawyers should be involved.[7] At the end of April 1995, the Senate approved a policy and submitted it to the Trustees for review.[8] Signalling continuing controversy over the policy, the Law School rejected implementation of a three-year trial of the university policy, citing a lack of due process for accused students.[9]

During the course of all this, student groups were active, with sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and other demonstrations.[10] Future The New Republic editor Franklin Foer was active in Students United for a Just Sexual Assault Policy (SUJSAP).

Review and Revision and Controversy (1998-2001)

When the Misconduct Policy came up for review years later, it would come to dominate part of the 1999-2000 academic year.[11]

In fall 1998, the Senate undertook a review of the policy following the end of its 3 year trial period.[12]

By fall of 1999, students were actively pushing for a response from the task force.[13] In November, the Task Force recommended scrapping the existing policy and set forth proposals for a new policy.[14] The proposals faced immediate criticism.[15] Student reaction, lead by a variety of student coalitions including the Policy Reform Organization (PRO), Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), Columbia Men Against Violence (CMAV), and Take Back the Night, peaked with a student demonstration of between 300 and 400 students marching on a task force hearing and presenting 1,800 petitions directly to President George Rupp.[16] Between November and February, the proposed policy was heavily revised in response to student concern[17] However, in the process, questions about the due process rights of the accused again came to the forefront.[18] The Spectator also published on the eve of the vote a detailed report recounting the rape and subsequent experiences of three students in dealing with the university administration.[19] With hundreds of students looking on, the Senate adopted the revised proposal on February 25, 2000.[20] By April, student representatives on the implementation committees had been named.[21]

Less than a month after Columbia hired its first administrator under the new policy, the hearing procedures portion of the policy, the only portion to receive dissenting votes at the Senate vote the previous Spring, came under intense public criticism. Spearheaded by individual rights advocates Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Columbia became center of a national controversy.[22]

Following contact by FIRE with Columbia over the summer, the controversy hit the mainstream in October of 2000 when the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called out Columbia's policy for having eliminated due process protections for the accused in its attempts to empower victims.[23] This in turn led to a media flurry the next day, with the New York Times picking up on the story, and the University firing back with letters to FIRE and the Journal.[24] Things got weird, with at least one student accusing the spec of collaborating with critics just to provoke controversy[25] Criticism continued, both from within, and without, including from the NYCLU, Boston Globe, Village Voice, and other publications.[26] There were also responses in defense of the policy.[27]. Amidst all the controversy, Charlene Allen, who had been hired as the coordinator for the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education in September of 2000, resigned in April 2001, claiming that she was under pressure to revise the policy from trustees and central administration as a result of outside criticism.[28]

Following some fuzzy soft-peddling over the summer, the University provided "clarifications" on the policy the following fall.[29]

The four year review (2002-2006)

In 2002, the controversial policy was scheduled for a review on its two year anniversary. However, the review would be delayed two years, and then take another two years to resolve with the passage of a new policy. After initially mooting a scheduled 2002 review, the University kicked the can down the road by over a year to Fall 2003, when OSMPE director Misumbo Byrd asked the Senate in a report to save the Office from the slow and steady death it had been suffering after the FIRE controversy.[30] By October though, Byrd announced her intent to resign by the end of the semester, citing the difficulties in carrying out her offices mission.[31] In January 2004, two years after originally planning on doing so, the Senate finally got around to reviewing the policy, including a review of the functions of the 3.5 year old OSMPE.[32] In October of that year, with the policy still under review, OSMPE was merged with the existing Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Center to create the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Program.[33] Over the next two years, a Senate appointed task force carried out a review remarkable for its lack of public controversy, given the passion surrounding the passage of the policy in 1999-2000, and its criticism in 2000-2001.[34] A revised policy was passed in May 2006, which notably transferred review authority to a new Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault.[35]

Renewed Concern and Controversy (2013-2014)

Sexual assault on campus, and the University's handling of cases has continued to be a matter of concern on campus.[36]

The policy, and the issue of sexual assault on campus, received new attention in the 2013-2014. In Fall of 2013, students petitioned the University to publish truthful statistics on assault on campus, and held protests to draw attention to the issue of the University's handling of cases.[37] Then, in December 2013, the New York Post published a report that the University was mishandling sexual assault cases.[38] On January 22, 2013, the provosts office launched the "Sexual Respect" website which was responsive to some concerns but lacked actual data.[39]One day later, the Blue and White published a forthcoming feature article focusing on the experiences of three students with the administration's handling of sexual assault claims on Bwog.[40] The article, perhaps unknowingly, echoed the Spectator report from February 2000.[41] One week later, President Bollinger announced that statistics would be released.[42]

No Red Tape Columbia

One month after Bollinger's announcement, a group calling itself "No Red Tape" fliered the campus demanding that Bollinger keep his word.[43] The activists used red tape to symbolize their anger at Columbia's alleged burial of sexual misconduct claims in red tape and bureaucracy. The group garnered attention in the national press when members with red-tap-covered-mouths attempted to distribute fliers to prospective matriculants at an admitted students day event in April.[44] Graduating seniors expressed solidarity with survivors and the protestors by wearing red tape on their mortarboards at Class Day and Commencement.[45]

No Red Tape continued to organize demonstrations criticizing Columbia's handling of sexual assault issues in Fall 2014, including a rally on the steps of Low Library in September.[46]

In a similar way, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence was formed and held teach-outs and information sessions about the university's policies. While No Red Tape focused primarily on direct action, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence focused on the policy side, given that a large contingent of their membership served on the undergraduate student councils.

Title IX Complaint

In April 2014, 23 Columbia and Barnard students filed a federal complaint against the University alleging that its handling of cases violated Title IX, Title II, and the Clery Act.[47]

Carry That Weight

One of the students joining the Title IX complains, Emma Sulkowicz '15, spoke with multiple media outlets in May 2014 to tell her story, stating that she was raped during her sophomore year and that her rapist was still on campus.[48] A visual arts major, Sulkowicz chose as her senior thesis to carry a Columbia dormitory mattress that she purchased direct from the manufacturer with her everywhere on campus so long as her accused rapist was also on campus as a piece of performance art entitled "Carry That Weight" that also doubled as a protest against the policies that allowed such a situation to persist.[49] Fellow students called on their classmates to help Emma carry her mattress.[50] Soon, the demonstration garnered national attention, including a cover story in New York Magazine.[51]

Sulkowicz's protest led to a "Carry That Weight" National Day of Action on October 29, 2014, with students across the country joining in solidarity with Emma's protest.[52] No Red Tape joined with Carry That Weight to host a rally at Columbia that drew support from 28 other student groups and drew a crowd of over 150 students and faculty.[53] The rally also became a minor flash-point in the ongoing tensions among students over the Israel-Palestine conflict when members of Students for Justice in Palestine participated in the speak-out.[54] The rally's aftermath led to the University administration tagging the organizers with a $1,500 clean-up fee for the removal of 28 mattresses that participants stacked up in front of President Bollinger's house after the rally.[55]

External links


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  2. [2]
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  4. Sexual Assault at Columbia
  5. [4]
  6. [5] See pgs 9, 10, 23, 24; [6]
  7. [7]; [8]
  8. [9]
  9. [10]; [11]
  10. [12]; [13]; [14]
  11. Year in Review: Senate, Activists Craft Sexual Misconduct Policy
  12. [15]; [16]
  13. [17]; [18]
  14. [19]
  15. [20]; [21]; [22]; [23]; [24]
  16. [25]; [26]
  17. [27]; [28]; [29]; [30]; [31]; [32]; [33]; [34]; [35]
  18. [36]; [37]
  19. [38]
  20. [39]
  21. [40]
  22. A Battle of Wills, Rights, and P.R. at Columbia, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 2001; Year in Review: Columbia Struggles to Launch a New Policy: A series of outside attacks and a sudden resignation make for a rocky first year for Columbia's new Sexual Misconduct Policy, Columbia Spectator, 2 May 2001
  23. [41]; [42]
  24. [43]; [44]; [45]
  25. [46]
  26. [47]; [48]; [49]; [50]; [51]; [52] See "Media Coverage"
  27. [53]; [54]; [55]; [56]
  28. [57]; [58]; [59]
  29. [60]; [61]; [62]
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