August 15, 2014
Announcement from the President
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
I am writing today to announce a new University Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students and related procedures for responding to such misconduct. This can be accessed at www.sexualrespect.columbia.edu. Our goals underlying the new policy are principally these: to strengthen confidence in the University's handling of reports of sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct, to ensure fairness for all parties involved, and to provide more assistance to students in need. The changes we've made also reflect recent guidance from the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and federal legislation, as well as our own community’s recommendations. I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to understand the new University policy and the procedures it outlines. Throughout the coming year, we will continue to discuss ways to improve our policy. Everyone's ideas are welcome and valuable in achieving the ultimate end here, which is to make Columbia a place where students feel safe, respected, and fully able to experience the extraordinary education and social opportunities the institution provides.
A significant component of the new Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, which deserves special note, involves various steps to improve the key personnel responsible for its implementation. Our investigators will be taking on a larger role in determining credibility and responsibility, and they will possess the requisite professional background and training to do so. Individuals serving on the hearing panels will be drawn from a designated pool of Columbia professionals with expertise in student life who have been tasked with this duty as part of their job. (Consistent with federal guidance, students will no longer serve on these panels.) And advisors, including an attorney if a student so chooses, may now accompany students who are parties to the investigative and disciplinary process at all hearings and official meetings.
A related development concerns case managers employed by the Gender-Based Misconduct Office. The presence of these case managers will provide complainants and respondents with a University staff member dedicated to helping them navigate this difficult process, access available support services, and secure necessary accommodations regarding their academic work and residential living arrangements.
Yet, I also want to stress that, as important as the policy and personnel changes are, they represent only one element of a comprehensive University effort begun in the spring semester and continued through the summer to prevent and respond to sexual assault and other forms of gender-based misconduct. Six new staff positions have been created in the Office of Sexual Violence Response (SVR), including an assistant director to be located at the University Medical Center. A new and larger Sexual Violence Response and Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center will officially open later this month on the seventh floor of Lerner Hall (in addition to the existing Hewitt Hall office on the Barnard campus), providing a private yet accessible location for students in need of support and services. The training we mandate for incoming undergraduates on consent, respect, and the importance of bystander intervention has been expanded and will be carried into the school year. Helping to drive these initiatives forward is Suzanne Goldberg, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, who last month I named as my special advisor on these matters.
So, today’s new policy is one among many reforms we have initiated to try to deal with what is most certainly a national issue and—of greater importance to us—a Columbia University issue. I have always said, and will do so again, that our responses to this (or any other serious matter) should be guided by our own internal standards of character and basic norms of proper conduct, consistent of course with the law and public policy, but always seeking far more of ourselves than what may be commonly asked.
Lee C. Bollinger