Students of Columbia who walked in on Suzanne Goldberg’s class earlier this month to protest received a disciplinary email Monday from a member of the faculty named Melissa Begg. In the email, the students were told they must attend a meeting with Ms. Begg in her role as “temporary rules administrator.” Students are under threat of a possible “simple” rules violation, which could entail punishments such as public reprimand.
The students who received this email are requesting that the allegations “be immediately dismissed and expunged” on the grounds that the statute of limitations for disciplining them for a Rules of Conduct violation, which is 5 days, has passed. In a response to the email they received, one student called initiating an investigation after the statute of limitations has passed “a clear violation of Columbia’s policies” and said that to do so “deprives [the students] of our right to a prompt investigation within the time frame Columbia provides.”
The administration is arguing that they are allowed to go beyond the statute of limitations due to Professor and EVP Goldberg’s conflict of interest: as the University Rules of Conduct Administrator for Columbia, she would normally be the person to begin investigations regarding possible rules violations. However, because she is also Executive Vice President of University Life, under which she handles Title IX-related claims, and because it was her class that the protest occurred in, the administration is arguing that the statute of limitations does not apply because they needed extra time to find an alternate administrator to send the disciplinary email. Despite the fact that the administration themselves failed to address this conflict previously by hiring someone new for one of the positions, it seems they will continue to make this argument.
In addition to being a member of the Columbia Administration under multiple titles, Goldberg teaches a class called Topics in Sexuality and Gender Law. It was this class that on Thursday, October 5th, students, including some members of campus anti-sexual violence organization No Red Tape, walked into with signs saying things like “You should not be teaching this class.” The students protested in Goldberg’s classroom because she is the administrator who handles Title IX cases, and they reiterate that she has not done a satisfactory job. One student read a speech detailing the nature of their protest, saying that “[sexual assault] survivors at Columbia and Barnard are still endangered by administrators like Suzanne Goldberg.”
While many of the students who protested in the class were members of No Red Tape, not all of them were, and the protest itself was not in any way affiliated with No Red Tape. Despite this, at least one student who is a known member of No Red Tape received the email despite not being a part of the protest. Three out of five of the students who received this email are people of color, and the four students who participated in the protest but did not receive the email are all white. Members of No Red Tape who were at the protest but are not “known” to be part of the group did not receive the email.
The students who received the email are meeting with administrators this Friday; however, they plan to resist the investigation and any disciplinary action threatened against them. One of the students who participated in the protest and received the email said that “given Columbia’s selective charging of certain people and not others based on group affiliations and potentially race, I think this has crossed from reasonable to retaliatory.”