Additional Thoughts on Protections and Privacy in the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In follow-up conversations regarding Protections and Privacy in the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students post, some students and others have continued to urge the desirability of recording as a means for documenting problems in the investigation process and deterring reckless or irresponsible allegations. To further our collective conversation, I am sharing here a few additional thoughts on these issues:

Most basically, developing any policy, including the policy here, requires an analysis of the upsides and downsides of various choices.  On this issue, my view, and the view of many at Columbia and elsewhere, is that while there are real benefits to recording as its advocates note, there are also significant costs. 


Concerns about access to the recordings

To begin, some students who advocate for the right to record have said that they are not seeking the recording right for purposes of posting to social media.  I believe this to be true.  Yet it is also true that if recording is permitted, some other students in the process may not hold that as a value.  In addition, as we know, phones and other recording devices are sometimes borrowed by a friend and at other times are lost or stolen.  At that point, the recordings on them are available to anyone who has access to the phone.  These contemporary realities reinforce the concerns about student privacy and chilling effects discussed at length in my earlier post.  


A need for consistency in recording

An additional consequence of a policy that permits students to record is that the University will then also record, so that we have our own record.  To ensure consistency in record-keeping across cases, the University could not reasonably opt to record only when students involved in the process want their meetings recorded.  To be sure, a small number of complainants have expressed a strong view otherwise, and many others who have not been involved with the process have also expressed their support for a policy that would allow recording to take place.  However, as I mentioned in my earlier post, many other students who have been personally involved with the process – as complainants and respondents – have expressed to Columbia’s Title IX investigators that they do not want to be recorded.


Taking into consideration these points and the discussion above, including the existing processes for students to raise concerns about investigations or bad-faith complaints, we continue to believe that our current policy reflects choices that best enable a process that is both fair to students and sensitive to the issues involved. 


Finally, I want to express my appreciation for the continuing conversation within our community with Columbia’s policy and the process.  I hope and believe that, whatever our differences in analysis of this particular issue, our shared goal is to create a campus culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment, sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct and to have a process that is accessible, fair and sensitive to address incidents when they occur. 

- Suzanne B. Goldberg, Executive Vice President for University Life