Bureaucracy buff Joe Milholland ventured to the University Senate plenary on Friday, coming back with word on the University’s evolving sexual assault policy, Ebola, and Manhattanville.
At the Friday, October 24 USenate Plenary, Suzanne Goldberg, the Special Advisor to the President for Sexual Assault Policy, talked about the sexual assault policy and took questions from the audience.
Goldberg emphasized the policy was focused on prevention and communicating resources as well as response. She noted that there are several confidential resources for survivors, such as Sexual Violence Response, the Office of the University Chaplain, and Health Services. She also said that Columbia has several staff members and peer advocates on CPS, whereas most schools only have one trained person to deal with sexual assault.
As for non-confidential resources, Goldberg stated that survivors do not have to engage in the investigation process even if they get accommodations from the Office of Gender-based Misconduct. The investigators at SVR are all new and are “deeply trained,” according to Goldberg, who has sat in on some training sessions. Of the non-confidential processes, Goldberg said, “non-confidential does not mean non-private,” and “The University will never comment on an individual student’s case, even if the student is public about their experience of sexual violence”
Goldberg asked how many USenators had read the policy. Most senators raised their hands, and Goldberg told them that most places where she asks that question she gets very few raised hands, usually from people who have been through the investigation process. However, Goldberg wants more people to have read the policy, which is not written for lawyers but for “human beings who don’t have legal training.”
A senator on the Faculty Affairs Committee who hadn’t read the policy wanted to be sure that the university had “a very well detailed process for who does what and how is responsible for what” and worried that “in order to solve a problem, [the university is] creating another problem.” The senator mentioned a professor who was suspended from teaching for a semester because of an anonymous comment on CourseWorks about inappropriate sexual comments in his lectures. Because the professor’s classes were filmed, the professor was eventually found innocent, but the senator was worried people were being prosecuted before they were investigated. Goldberg first told the senator that the new policy doesn’t apply to faculty, but that the policy for students has “tremendous sensitivity for the students involved” and “fairness to all.”
A professor of Anthropology asked about how the university was going to communicate “the social consequences” of sexual assault, a concern she had especially after she was “stunned” by the “comments on the Spec” about sexual assault. Goldberg also said she was concerned about bigotry in online comments and mentioned the school’s bystander training.
There was also a question about the investigators and the investigation process. Goldberg said the new investigators included someone from the DA’s sex crime prosecution unit in Manhattan and “experts in the dynamics of sexual assault.” She also said that investigations, even with drinking and drug use, are not typically he said-she said situations, and the investigators talk “very carefully with students about step-by-step what happened.”
Goldberg also received a question about the push-back by professors at Harvard about the school’s new sexual assault policy. She said that “Harvard has taken a bit of an unusual approach” in putting the investigation and adjudication process in the same place, but the two roles are exasperated at Columbia. “I think [Columbia's sexual assault policy is] probably the best policy in the country,” Goldberg said at the conclusion of her questioning. “I have not seen anything that is as good as ours.”
- Title IX Coordinator Melissa Rooker talked for a short time about the sexual assault data. She wants the data “to improve community about sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct.” After her talk, Rooker and Goldberg received questions about how they can measure the effectiveness of the new policy. Goldberg said there will likely never be a “comprehensive set of data” about the numbers of sexual assault because so many sources are confidential. However, next year Goldberg will be working with people from the School of Public Health “to try to track the effectiveness of some of what is done.”
- On Ebola, PrezBo said that the infected doctor, Craig Spencer, was at Bellevue, “the key place designated in the city, at this point, to take such patients.” “I have heard nothing up to this point that would lead me to think that any member of the Columbia community is at risk,” PrezBo said.
- Ronald Breslow, Chair of the Campus Planning Committee, talked about changes to Columbia from Manhattanville. He said the library and café at the B-school will likely leave and that the role of Manhattanville in undergrad education is not yet clear.
Hallowed halls via 360b / Shutterstock