The Columbia Daily Spectator hasn’t published any content since September 25, as the result of a halt on publishing initiated by the site’s Managing Board over Spec’s lack of a suitable gender-based misconduct policy, according to our sources.
In an email sent to the Columbia Daily Spectator staff on September 19, former Product Manager at the Spectator Cecilia Orduña (SEAS ‘21) sharply criticized the Spectator’s leadership for its “continued mishandling of sexual misconduct and their refusal to create any sort of policies to protect staff members.” According to the email, which was obtained by Bwog, the Spectator has an unofficial policy that they are not an adjudicating body, which means that members of the Spectator must report cases of gender-based misconduct through the university, even though the Spectator is an independent, registered 501(c)(3) organization. Additionally, Orduña questioned the Corporate Board for their inability to provide concrete answers surrounding Spec’s gender-based misconduct policies. She added that when she asked the Spectator’s Editor-In-Chief and President of the Spectator Publishing Company, Karen Xia (CC ‘21), for an update on this issue, Xia proposed a call with Orduña rather than give a written response, but never followed through with the meeting. Finally, Orduña asked the staff of the Spectator to hold the leadership accountable and details questions that staffers should pose in order to apply pressure to the leadership in order to create a change. The full text of the email can be seen below this post.
This email seems to have reignited a familiar conflict within the organization over transparency and the leadership’s handling of allegations of gender-based misconduct. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Xia called a meeting with Spec’s Managing Board to discuss the lack of official policy. The Managing Board includes the lead editors of each of the Spectator’s sections as well as Xia, the Managing Editor, and Publisher (who separately comprise the Corporate Board, which manages Spectator Publishing, the parent company of the Daily Spectator, Spectrum, and the Eye). Managing Board members were reportedly not satisfied with said meeting’s results and began drafting a set of community standards which included suspending alleged perpetrators, a major point of contention. Our sources say the Managing Board has ceased coverage and publication until the policy is approved and released to the staff, though no public statement has been made regarding the recent halt in publication to confirm or deny this claim.
Spectator’s lack of a constitution and gender-based harassment policy has previously caused internal strife, most recently with the Fall 2018 resignation of the majority of the Spectator’s sports staff due to conflict with upper-level management. The conflict centered around the lack of transparency from Spectator’s Corporate Board regarding equitable board selection and whether allegations of gender-based misconduct within the organization were properly investigated and handled by leadership. The Spectator’s Corporate Board denied claims of impropriety, with the Editor-In-Chief at the time, Jessica Spitz (CC’19), writing in an email sent to the entire staff that “Spec has a clear procedure for handling allegations of misconduct by people on our staff, and CB [Corporate Board] has adhered to this procedure in the past year.”
Spitz’s email, also obtained by Bwog, contained a summary of the Spectator’s 2018 policy as to handling allegations of misconduct. The email states that any report of misconduct should be stated to the Corporate Board, and that “if [they] are notified of misconduct, [their] policy is to immediately speak to all parties involved and determine the best way forward on a case by case basis.” If a complainant wants to remain anonymous, the email says they can also go through the Staff Director, and finally, if neither CB nor Staff Director are appropriate, they can contact the Board of Trustees. The email also encourages students to report to the university, stating “As students, you always have the option to make a report directly to your school’s office of gender based misconduct.” While Spitz’s successor, Katherine Gerberich (BC’20) claimed that “a major priority of Spectator’s 143rd managing board is to review and strengthen its own [sexual misconduct] policies and make sure they are effective,” it is unclear how the policy has changed since 2018. The full text of Spitz’s email is embedded below.
When contacted for comment, current EIC Xia wrote that “Spectator does not tolerate misconduct by or among staffers. Spectator has had written policies on the handling of complaints or concerns about misconduct for several years, and has discussed at various points in the past two years whether and how to revise them. At any point at which any adjustments or clarifications are made to those policies, they will be distributed to Spectator’s staff.” Xia did not elaborate on the cause of the halt in publishing, how long she expects it to last, the details of the current gender-based misconduct policy, or what changes to the policy are currently being discussed by the Corporate Board.
Orduña’s email also includes a link to a Facebook post she wrote, published September 8, 2020, which references several internal Spectator scandals. It also pointed out that although the Spectator claims that they are trying to abide by university standards, a written constitution is a basic requirement for university clubs to be funded. The Spectator is not funded by the Student Life Fee and as such, has no requirement to have a written policy; however, given their claim that they cannot discipline members accused of gender-based misconduct in order to abide by university standards, their lack of a constitution contradicts that stated goal.
The post also says that Spectator leadership has claimed that after consulting with the paper’s legal counsel, legal repercussions could result if the Corporate Board did not abide by university standards when dealing with gender-based misconduct allegations. However, Gerberich’s statement from the start of her tenure as EIC noted explicitly that while the Spectator’s members are subject to University policy “Spectator is not subject to the same limitations that govern university-affiliated clubs.” Bwog has reached out to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards regarding what repercussions might emerge if Spectator implements a formal constitution that does not follow university standards given its independent status.
According to members of Spectator’s staff, leadership has advised staffers to be cautious in speaking with outside sources like Bwog about this issue, though no one was explicitly prohibited from speaking out. It also appears that some staffers have not been informed of the true nature of the halt on publishing and have been told that Spectator has halted publishing for the week in order to prepare for the coming semester.
Update September 30th, 7:45 PM: Edited to clarify internal guidance relayed by Spec leadership on speaking with outside publications.
This is a developing story. If you have any information regarding the situation, you are welcome to send an anonymous confidential tip, either at bwog.com/tip or to the email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full Text of the Anonymous Tip sent on September 30, 12:22 AM:
Got this link from the columbia confessions post. Following an all staff email sent out by Cecilia orduna a former member of spec calling out spec leadership for a history of mishandling sexual misconduct and refusing to implement policies, Karen Xia (EIC) reached out to specs managing board members to have a meeting discussing specs lack of policies. This meeting did not go the way specs MB members hoped so they began drafting a set of community standards which include suspension of alleged perpetrators. All section editors informed specs CB that no coverage would be published until the policy is approved and released to staff
Full text of Cecilia Orduña’s email, sent September 19th to all staff members of The Spectator:
Subject line: HOLD SPEC ACCOUNTABLE
My name is Cecilia Orduña, I’m currently a senior and have been part of Spec since January 2018. I served as Lead Product Designer last year and quit during my tenure as Product Manager due to Spec’s continued mishandling of sexual misconduct and their refusal to create any sort of policies to protect staff members. (If you have not seen my Facebook post, I recommend you read it https://www.facebook.com/100012562428160/posts/1021833304912074/?extid=OgyUHmFeqoxSWuuP&d=n )
Spec currently has an unofficial policy that they are “not an adjudicating body”, therefore members of Spectator must report cases of misconduct through the university even though Spectator is independent from Columbia. When asked by myself along with multiple MB members to implement any policies or protections for staffers, any and all ideas have been shot down due to legal concerns (apparently they’ve consulted multiple lawyers). How can HR style policies meant to protect staff be a liability issue? How is creating a constitution unfeasible when other school papers that are independent from their universities (Harvard, NYU, Syracuse) have them? (Note: Syracuse’s policy even includes restricting alleged perpetrators from working on staff until the situation is resolved)
Why is it that MB members are unable to provide concrete answers surrounding Spec’s “updates” sexual misconduct policies referenced in the all staff email from August 2nd. Why is it that when asking our EIC for an update on changes related to misconduct over a month after that same email, that she was unable to give me a response in writing and ghosted me after she proposed that we instead have a call to talk about it?
PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS: to your MB member, to CB, to the trustees. If something feels sketchy, it probably is. Spec Corporate Board’s have a history of gaslighting staff members with concerns, they have a history of trying to keep “drama” silent (check out this article they were scared staff would see back in 2018 http://www.theblueandwhite.org/2018/12/17/columbia-daily-spectator-sports-staff-gutted-by-resignations/) and they have a history of promising changes with no follow through. HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE.
Don’t know where to start? Here are some ideas of questions you can ask:
Change won’t be made unless members of staff at all levels apply pressure on the organization. If you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading and please demand tangible change + accountability
Full text of Jessica Spitz’s email, sent December 3, 2018 to all staff of The Spectator.spec-email-2