APRIL 30, 2005


Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct



Patricia E. Grieve (Ten., A&S), Chair; Rebecca Baldwin (student, School of Nursing and University Senate); Bethany Chase (student, School of Social Work and University Senate); Tara Coleman (student, Barnard College); Carlos Cuevas (student, Columbia College); Alyssa Gafford (student, School of General Studies); Kevin McCarthy (Head Coach, Women’s Soccer and CC ’85); Stephen O’Brien (NT, SEAS, and University Senate); Gary Okihiro (Ten., A&S); Brian Paquette (Student Affairs, Mailman School of Public Health); Susan Rieger (Associate Provost, Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action)[1]




     The Senate Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, which consists of Senate and non-Senate members, conducted fourteen months of research and discussions (February 2004-April 2005), into the complex issues of sexual misconduct on college campuses, specifically, incidences of sexual assault committed by students against other students. This report describes how Columbia addresses these issues through its institutional support services for victims of sexual misconduct, including the offices responsible for crisis counseling and ongoing counseling services, and for the educational, preventive and outreach programs designed to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct in the Columbia community. In proposing the recommendations below, we have revised the policy statement and the student disciplinary procedures in order to bring clarity to them, and to provide a strong statement about Columbia’s commitment to a safe and healthy living and learning environment for all members of the community. Our research has found that the terminology used in these cases varies from campus to campus, and at Columbia, it serves to confuse rather than help those who seek appropriate venues of institutional support, as we will address below. Columbia’s current Sexual Misconduct Policy is distinct from its Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure.[2] Through our research and discussions with the larger Columbia community, and from the emails we received from members of the Columbia community, we found widespread confusion and assumption that Sexual Misconduct was Sexual Harassment, which led many people to assume incorrectly that Columbia had no policy against sexual assault.[3] Therefore, the first recommendation of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct is that the term Sexual Misconduct be replaced by the more clear term Sexual Assault.[4] In keeping with this recommendation, we will use Sexual Assault throughout this report, except when referring to the present Policy and Procedures, or to the earlier Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures or earlier Senate resolutions.


     The Task Force recognizes the many strengths of Columbia’s current system for addressing sexual assault, especially the offices that offer counseling services and educational programs to the community, and the student groups that are committed to raising awareness of, and reducing the incidences of, sexual assault in the Columbia community. We understand that the names of the various offices that currently serve the Columbia community have historical importance to many people. Some offices retain parts of historical names in order to honor the decades-long national struggle to recognize violence against women and violence in intimate relationships and to do something about these harmful and unjust situations. Nevertheless, the result is a series of names, often referred to by acronyms, which are confusing, ungainly and too similar to each other. We believe that the office names need to serve the current and present population rather than a past population, and we would suggest that the offices consider coordinating the names in a way that helps clarify options for the community rather than confuse them. Moreover, the relevant offices on campus and the Office of Public Safety mounted commendable programs during the month of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and yet, not a single office on campus has the phrase “sexual assault” in its title. In this report, we have attempted to identify opportunities for improvement that will benefit the larger Columbia community by enabling the institution’s support services to be more accessible and visible to the community, which will improve Columbia’s overall approach to education, prevention and outreach.



I.  Charge of the Task Force and Background of Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures

     We were given a broad charge by the Executive Committee of the University Senate to examine Columbia’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, as it applies to Columbia students of all schools (except the Law School) since its inception in 1995 and revisions in 2000, and to make recommendations regarding the educational and support services, and the disciplinary hearing procedures.    

     In the 1990s, students and administrators at Barnard College initiated conversations about the need for a policy that would recognize the sensitive nature of sexual assault cases, including the developing research on victim trauma, the reluctance to report alleged incidents of sexual assault, and to file a complaint even if reported.


     In 1995, the University Senate approved the resolution to have a Sexual Misconduct Policy, and approved a skeletal set of Disciplinary Procedures that would apply to all students of all Columbia schools, Teachers’ College and Barnard College (the Law School has its own procedures). The policy served to respond to the growing awareness of sexual violence on campuses nationwide, and the University’s desire to demonstrate a strong commitment to the education of the community about sexual violence, especially to its reduction and prevention, and to provide an Alternative Disciplinary Process to Dean’s Discipline, for which panelists would be trained in how to adjudicate such cases. On April 24, 1998, the Senate appointed a Task Force to study the policy and procedures. That Task Force, chaired by Patricia Sachs Catapano, worked for fourteen months and reported to the Senate on November 12, 1999. Following the delivery of their report, the Task Force held open forums to meet with representatives of various groups on campus, and with Senate members. Their Revised Report, dated December 9, 1999, reflected the input of the larger Columbia community. The Report made four main recommendations, along with additional informal suggestions:

    The Task Force is making four specific recommendations to the Senate to form the basis for resolutions to be presented at a later meeting. Firstly, that  education  and information about the issue of sexual misconduct be expanded under the oversight of the President’s Advisory Committee on Security; secondly, that an office be created entitled Coordinator, Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention to have responsibility for education and training of the community on the issue of sexual misconduct, to provide mandatory education on sexual misconduct for all students, to expand the distribution and availability of information about resources, including complaint processes, and to collect statistics on its incidence on campus; thirdly, that a specialized discipline procedure for cases of sexual misconduct be continued, and that other options, including the option for mediating such cases continue to be available; and, fourthly, that the form of the alternative procedure be changed as described below. The Task Force wishes to emphasize that the most important aspect of the University’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct is education and information. Four years after its initial creation, the Task Force heard from many witnesses that students were still not aware of the existence of the Policy, where to receive advice and counseling, or how to commence disciplinary proceedings. The responsibility for informing students of the University’s prohibition against sexual misconduct and the availability of support services and complaint procedures rests throughout the community, not only with deans and residence advisors, and the Department of Security, but with any member of the community who has occasion to advise students. Thus, a widespread campaign to publicize the University’s policy and procedures and to educate all members of the community of their responsibilities is necessary. The focus of this campaign should be that the University will not tolerate sexual misconduct on campus.” [5]

     When the Senate voted in 2000 to adopt five resolutions that resulted from the 1998-1999 Task Force Report, they added the mandate that the policy and procedures be reviewed again three years later.[6]  Specifically, the Senate resolved to continue the University Policy on Sexual Misconduct; to improve education and training about and prevention of sexual misconduct, and oversight of the Sexual Misconduct Policy; to create a full-time position of Coordinator, qualified in the areas of sexual misconduct, to oversee the policy and to educate students and others about the existence of resources for counseling and disciplinary procedures. The resolution called for the President’s Advisory Committee on Campus Security to establish three standing subcommittees of a broad representation of the campus community of people with demonstrated interest in the work of the subcommittees. A first standing subcommittee would conduct ongoing assessment of the availability of resources and appropriate standards of behavior with respect to sexual conduct, about the responsible use of alcohol, and to evaluate methods of educating and informing students about the University’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct. A second President’s Advisory Committee subcommittee should review the method of compilation of statistics on the occurrence of reportable crimes on campus, and make recommendations for improving the accuracy and completeness of these statistics. Finally, a subcommittee would review, in confidence, all reports of hearing panels and appeals, and assess the effectiveness of the Disciplinary Procedure, the training of hearing panelists and other matters with respect to the review issues of statistical reporting, education with respect to sexual assault, and discipline involving members of more than one institution.

     In September, 2003, the former director of OSMPE (Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education), Misumbo Byrd, delivered a report to the Senate in which she expressed concerns and frustrations about OSMPE and what she believed to be a general lack of support for the office, its mission, and the University Policy and Procedures. In response to this, and in keeping with the Senate mandate of 2000, President Bollinger and the Senate agreed to establish a Task Force to review the policy and procedures, particularly the progress between the previous Senate Report of 1999 and the present.[7]


II. Methods of the Task Force:

     The Task Force conducted extensive research by reading all the materials available at Columbia that led to the establishment of the University Policy on Sexual Misconduct, and the activities and Senate resolutions that followed that initial creation of the Policy, by studying the policies, procedures, and institutional support services at other colleges and universities, articles on sexual assault in all its aspects, ranging from the kinds of physical and psychological trauma associated with sexual assault to the need for disciplinary hearing panelists to have specific training in order to understand how best to adjudicate such cases on a college campus, by inviting numerous guests to meet with the committee, and by meeting with and listening to the larger Columbia community.


    In February 2004, the committee agreed to meet monthly. We also agreed to maintain strict confidentiality about the testimony of any speakers who requested it, and to respect the confidentiality of any specific cases we were informed about. In the spring of 2004, we met with General Counsel, representatives from the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center at housed Barnard College, the staff and administrators of the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention, who also run the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Program, other Health Services staff, former staff and administrators of relevant programs and offices, representatives of student groups, including RSAP (Reform Sexual Assault Policy, formed in academic year 2003-2004), representatives of the Crime Victims Treatment Program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, and deans from schools.


     As we reported to the Senate at the end of April 2004, after spending the spring term trying to understand the function of the various offices on  campus that deal with sexual violence, the kinds of, and reasons for, overlap of duties and resources, and the reasons for student confusion about the nature and availability of resources to deal with Sexual Assault in particular, the Task Force received a memorandum from VP for Student Services Lisa Hogarty, which informed the Task Force of a reorganization of offices  and a reorganization of lines of reporting. Given the widespread concern by students about their perception that the University’s response to sexual violence on campus was often one of indifference and/or inadequate resources, and their view that the adjudication process was ineffectual and improperly located in Health Services offices, views which necessitated a very clear understanding by the Task Force of where all staff and resources lie and why, the Task Force became frustrated by having to start over learning about the offices. While we believe that the lack of notification of the plans to reorganize the offices we were striving to understand did not intend to undermine the work of the Task Force, it is nonetheless the case that some valuable time was wasted in the spring.


     As the Task Force had learned in spring 2004, the most successful campus policies have broad university support and visibility, especially if the goal is a change in campus culture. Moreover, we had learned through our research and discussions that athletes and Greek life are often singled out (sometimes quite unfairly, in our view) in articles about sexual assaults on campus. In the early fall of 2004, we realized that the Task Force itself (especially after all four student members graduated in May 2004) needed to represent a broader group of students, faculty and administrators than it did. If the Task Force were to call for broad university support for the resources on sexual violence and for a culture change that would engage the entire community in raising awareness that education and prevention of sexual violence rests with the whole community, then an excellent place to start would be with the Task Force membership. Students who joined the Task Force represented athletics, Greek life, RSAP (the student committee formed in 2003-2004, Reform Sexual Assault Policy), Health Sciences and Social Work. A coach, who is also a Columbia College alumnus, an additional Arts and Sciences faculty member, and a student affairs administrator from Public Health, all joined the Task Force.


     In addition to bringing the new Task Force members up to speed on the work of spring 2004, the Task Force sent an email to the University community informing it of the Task Force membership and individual contact information, the availability of a private email account to contact the Task Force, and the scheduling of community forums. The Task Force held open forums in November and December 2004 at Morningside Heights and Health Sciences to meet with all interested members of the University Community. In December 2004, the Task Force toured the Barnard/Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, located in Brooks Hall, and the two offices in Lerner Hall, Office of the Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Misconduct, often abbreviated as ODPSM (3rd Floor, Lerner Hall) and the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Education, abbreviated as OSVPE, which houses the SVPRP, the Sexual Violence Prevention Response Program.



III. Findings of the Task Force


     Columbia was, and remains, at the forefront of colleges and universities in recognizing the problem of sexual assault and offering institutional support services. The Health Services office Alice! has long been the national model and leader as a resource for students. In terms of the purview of the Task Force, there are multiple options of support for all victims of sexual assault, which provide services of exceptionally high quality, offered by staff and administrators of great dedication. These services respect the individuality and differing needs of victims of sexual assault, the extremely sensitive nature of these occurrences and the need to respect confidentiality in such cases. Equally impressive are the education and prevention programs that Columbia offers. For the student disciplinary procedure, the hearing panelists undergo a thorough and thoughtful training.


     Current staff members in Barnard and Columbia’s relevant offices report that they believe institutional support for their services is on the rise in recent years, and in particular, they have been more actively welcomed in the undergraduate orientation and residential life programs. Nevertheless, they point to the need for ongoing visibility, and broader visibility.


     Those who participate in Columbia’s education and prevention programs sometimes encounter the frustrating situation of preaching to the converted. That is, the students who elect to become Peer Advocates or Peer Counselors are already students who realize the importance of sexual violence issues in our community. Students who join RSAP or participate in Take Back the Night are similarly committed to educating about and preventing sexual violence on campus and in our society. Yet these students expressed frustration over a perceived lack of strong institutional support.


     The Task Force encountered widespread student dissatisfaction with the policy and procedures for different reasons. Some students believe that the problematic issues of sexual violence remain unaddressed or marginalized at Columbia, and that the offices and educational programs suffer from lack of institutional support. At our group meetings and in the open forums, students complained about perceived unfairness in the student disciplinary process.


     Some students, and the members of RSAP in particular, expressed a desire for mandatory strict sanctions for a student found in violation of the Policy. Other students, including members of RSAP, told us that the sanctions recommended by the Hearing Panels were rejected by individual school deans, who imposed much less stringent sanctions. In particular, students objected to the sentence of community service for a student found in violation of the Policy. Students voiced concern over the underreporting of sexual assault on our campus either to campus security or to one of the offices that offers counseling services. Students were unhappy with the location of the Disciplinary Procedure, that is, as part of the office and duties of an administrator who works in education, prevention and counseling, and therefore as part of Student Services. For students whose concerns were perceived unfair treatment of the accused student, the issues were the hearing procedure itself and the location of the Office of Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Misconduct (ODMSM).[8] Students objected to the fact that the complaining student would have developed a relationship with the Counselor, who then switches hats to become the Administrator who selects hearing panelists, notifies the accused student of the complaint, and serves as the coordinator, though not a hearing panelist, of the disciplinary procedures.


     The confidentiality necessary in cases of sexual assault becomes an impediment to clearing up misperceptions and incorrect information. It is certainly possible that the Task Force did not receive all pertinent materials. Nevertheless, we were provided with the reports of the actual cases from the past three years, and in no case did a dean overturn the recommended sanction of the hearing panel, even if the sanction was suspension or expulsion. This is consonant with what the deans themselves told us. Nevertheless, we recognize that it differs from what the students recounted, although all but one student who reported this also confirmed that they themselves had not been privy to the hearing process or the reports. Secondly, it is the case that students found in violation of the Policy have received sentences of community service. There are two issues here for the Task Force. We join the students in objecting to the use of the phrase “community service,” which society should see as a privilege and a contribution, not a “sentence” in an educational institution. Nevertheless, as we will address below in the recommendations, we would not preclude the appropriateness of recommending some form of education for a student found in violation of the Policy. That is, we did not find evidence that establishing minimum sanctions of suspension or expulsion would necessarily serve Columbia’s educational mission or be appropriate in all cases.


      The Task Force agrees that underreporting of sexual assault remains an important issue, a point that was made also in the 1999-1998 Task Force report, in which it noted that Columbia’s reporting statistics were well below the national statistics.[9] The statistics should be more accessible to the members of the University community. The reporting of incidents, rather than alarm people, alerts the community to the need for education and prevention, and serves to contribute to the safety of the community. Below, in the proposed revised Policy, we suggest that encouragement of reporting be included.          


     The Disciplinary Hearing Procedure descriptions do not appear in complete form in any single publication or website on campus. In addition, over the years, they have suffered from ad hoc changes and additions, which have made them confusing and inconsistent. The overall result, though, is a contradictory series of descriptions of the hearing procedure, found in multiple websites in Health Services and in Facets, which has done nothing to alleviate student claims of unfairness in the proceedings. When the Senate adopted the resolutions of the previous Task Force, the media levied harsh criticisms against the University for the perception of a lack of protections for the accused. It appears that some changes to the procedures in the past few years, such as the installation of closed-circuit television, have sought to maintain the non-adversarial conditions of student disciplinary proceedings, while allowing both the accusing student and the accused student access to all aspects of the hearing process. Below, we provide a revised set of disciplinary procedures that brings together in one document everything students need to know.


     The Task Force also found problematic the location of the Disciplinary Procedure in Student Services. This is the only case of an adjudication process located within Student Services, which makes it a marginalized enterprise, in addition to the perception problems that students commented on, which are noted above. Student Services has accommodated the Office of Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Misconduct, but does not seek to retain it. However, the problem remains that there is no central office of judicial affairs for the campus. If there were a central office of student life or student affairs, the disciplinary procedures could be housed there. The Ad Hoc Grievance Procedures Report (April 2005) came to a similar conclusion, that Columbia needs a central—that is, not school-based—office for the articulation of grievances. If such an office were to be created, the Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Assault would find a natural home there.


     This points to another finding of the Task Force. The lack of central offices for student life and student affairs has meant that the entire enterprise of the Policy and Procedures has had no oversight, no ongoing evaluation, in spite of the earlier Senate Task Force’s recommendation and the Senate’s resolution that the President’s Advisory Council on Campus Security establish committees for that oversight and ongoing evaluation. 


     During our months of research and discussions, the Task Force learned that many students remain unaware of the abundant resources Columbia offers. The websites of the relevant offices are not linked as well and as clearly as they should be, and, as noted above, there are many instances in which the information offered is contradictory, and the acronyms and office names are confusing. There are too many websites and website pages within individual sites, and too many instances in which a phone number is offered without including the location of the office, or the location is listed without including the phone number, and in many instances, students have no idea of the names of the people who can help them. Other institutions make it easy to find help, especially if a victim is looking for immediate assistance, a friend is looking to help a victim, a survivor is looking for options for filing complaints, or a student is looking for information on whether what she or he experienced constitutes sexual assault. The Task Force members took turns role-playing to see how quickly we could access online the information we needed, and we failed in frustration more times than we were successful. Yet, we know that the relevant offices and programs do, in fact, exist.

     Expert witnesses testified to the role of alcohol in nationwide incidents of student sexual assault. Not only do a significant number of a school’s incidents occur in the first six weeks of the fall semester, but intoxication almost always plays a role. The orientation programs address the responsible use of alcohol, but the Task Force believes that the programs needs to continue to emphasize these links, and work with the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response throughout the academic year, and not just during orientation, when students receive an overwhelming amount of information. When students hear about sexual assault, they understandably resist the idea that it could pertain to any of them, most of them finding it inconceivable that they could be in such a situation, either as victim or perpetrator. And yet, as the cases in recent years have demonstrated, the combination of young adults living away from home for the first time, easy access to alcohol and an irresponsible use of it, and the fact that alcohol causes the falling away of inhibitions have resulted in situations that might have been prevented. In order to increase the chances of preventing sexual assault, the campus culture must support the importance of intervention, which comes with a campus culture that refuses to tolerate sexual assault, and of individual understanding of the potential consequences of putting oneself in unsafe situations. The Task Force found that the linkages between responsible use of alcohol and the prevention of situations of sexual violence need to be made more clear and stated more frequently. In addition, just as “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” the community needs to be more proactive in sending the message that we do not tolerate sexual assault. In the case of students, this means a more proactive culture of intervention, in which friends and acquaintances help to protect another student who appears to be in a potentially dangerous situation, and too intoxicated to give consent, or to prevent a student from taking advantage of a student too intoxicated to give consent. Finally, the Task Force found that other institutions encourage self-defense courses and other proactive preventive measures for students who find themselves in dangerous situations.


     In order to change a campus culture, not only do the offices and programs need to be welcomed in the residence halls, but students need to encourage a change in culture as well. The Task Force commends the admirable efforts of Columbia’s athletic coaches and teams, who have taken the lead in educational efforts designed to change the campus culture. Members of athletic teams attend a special program on sexual assault and on the responsible use of alcohol. The leaders of Columbia’s Greek Life organizations also promote the responsible use of alcohol. Given the prominence of Greek organizations in sponsoring social events, the Task Force discussed the possibility of a mandatory education and prevention program for all new members.


     Sexual Harassment falls outside the purview of the Task Force, but the email correspondence pointed to widespread concerns that people feel powerless to deal with it. The Task Force received a significant number of emails from Arts and Sciences graduate students, from staff members on Morningside Heights, and from students in the Medical School about cases of sexual harassment that remained, in their opinion, unstoppable. Schools and departments are encouraged to contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to arrange training sessions for students and employees.


     During our fourteen months of work, the Task Force found that too often lost in the discussions about the student disciplinary procedures is the fact that this process must fit the University’s educational mission and its commitment to a healthy living and learning environment for all its members. Columbia establishes codes of conduct with expectations of civility and respect for all its members. Such codes of conduct allow for necessary disciplinary processes in which the standard of expected behavior may well be higher than that outside the Columbia community. While student discipline seeks to maintain a safe and healthy living environment for all its members, and justice for community members who have been wronged by the actions of another community member, the goal of student discipline is not retribution and punishment, but, depending on the kind of infraction, the education of the person found in violation of the policy, and, in some cases involving sexual assault, the restoration of the safe and healthy environment for the accusing student and the community at large. When the sanction imposed is an educational program, we advise that the education always be geared towards protecting the survivor and preventing recidivism.[10] At this point, we do not have guidelines for sanctioning. However, the Task Force understands that the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response has been working for two years with students on the development of sanctioning models.

But student discipline is not a legal proceeding, nor can it be allowed to substitute for one. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to remember that both the accuser and the accused are students, and both must be treated fairly in the disciplinary process.


     We may not be able to eradicate all dissatisfaction, but if we can clarify the intention of the policy and procedures, spell out what it intends and does not intend to do, and can construct a disciplinary procedure that is consonant with the University’s educational mission, with the educational component of its disciplinary procedures, and is transparent and respectful of both students, the accusing student and the accused student, we believe we will have accomplished a lot. However, without the ongoing support of a central office of student affairs or student life, or an office of judicial affairs for the whole campus, or at the very least, the establishment of the oversight committees within the President’s Advisory Committee for Campus Security, as called for in 1999, education and prevention will not be campus-wide initiatives, nor will there likely be a change in campus culture.


IV. Recommendations


     Our recommendations have four general categories:


1.      Columbia’s Policy Statement on Sexual Misconduct, and its confusing terminology and lack of visibility to the community.

2.      Oversight of the sexual assault offices and programs in order to evaluate their effectiveness in meeting student and general community needs.

3.      The current offices that deal with the sexual assault issues of education, prevention and outreach to the community, counseling and adjudication of sexual assault cases, and campus security.

4.      The student disciplinary procedures since 2000 and the ad hoc changes to them that resulted in confusing and, even worse, contradictory procedures, which led to widespread perceptions of unfair and unequal treatment of students.       


1. The Policy


     The current policy is confusingly described in a number of ways, mixing policy and procedure, while calling it something different, sometimes “the statement on the policy,” among other unclear headings. In addition, in Facets, while reference is made to “the policy,” no actual policy statement appears, whereas on the websites that refer to sexual misconduct, a number of statements appear that differ from those in Facets. For example, on page108, the policy does not appear, but references are made to it, and to how the policy defines sexual misconduct. However, one cannot find the definition under the word policy anywhere, so we recommend merging the various components into one statement against sexual misconduct, which we propose should be called by its more accurate name, sexual assault. The revised policy may then be followed by a detailed description of the procedures for the university-wide disciplinary process.


     The Task Force determined that the University community needs one strong and clear policy statement that declares its opposition to sexual assault. This policy statement should use straightforward language, and include information about the jurisdiction of the policy. The Policy Statement against Sexual Assault must be visible to the university community. Although the policy and procedures will continue to be in Facets, they must be online and easily found.


Recommended new statement:


Columbia University Policy Statement against Sexual Assault


     Columbia University, Barnard College and Teachers’ College do not tolerate sexual assault of any degree and kind. The University Community is committed to fostering a healthy and safe environment in which every member of the community can realize her or his fullest potential.

      Sexual assault is non-consensual, intentional physical contact of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome physical contact with a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts. Sexual Assault occurs when the act is  committed either by a) physical force, violence, threat or intimidation; b) ignoring the objections of another person; c) causing another’s intoxication or impairment through the use of drugs or alcohol; or d) taking advantage of another person’s incapacitation, state of intimidation, helplessness, or other inability to consent.

     Sexual Assault is a serious problem on college campuses throughout the country. To counteract this problem, the University provides educational and preventive programs, resources for individuals dealing with sexual assault, and accessible methods of complaint resolution.

     In recognition of the sensitive nature of sexual assault cases, and the difficulties inherent in reporting, the University provides students with three options in seeking recourse. A student may choose to initiate disciplinary proceedings through Dean’s Discipline, in which case s/he will file a complaint with the dean of the school of the accused student. Alternatively, a student may choose to file a complaint using the University-wide Disciplinary Procedure. This procedure, established specifically to address allegations of sexual assault, ensures that the members of the committee hearing the case will be specially trained in adjudicating sexual assault. A student may seek to pursue a third option, the mediation of sexual assault cases, either through the University’s Ombuds Office or through the Office of Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault.

     To fall within the jurisdiction of the University’s administrative procedures, the alleged sexual assault must have been committed by a student on a student.      

     The University encourages students who believe that they have been subjected to non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature to report these incidents, whether or not they choose to file an official complaint. Reporting enables the University to protect the complainant and the larger community by taking appropriate actions.



  1. Oversight Committee

       The Task Force recommends the establishment of an oversight committee to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of offices, programs and the disciplinary process to meet student needs, and the needs of the larger Columbia community. The Oversight Committee, possibly as standing committees of the President’s Advisory Council on Campus Security, should consist of administrators, faculty and student members with an interest in the areas under assessment and evaluation. The committee should oversee the selection of hearing panelists for the disciplinary process, receive the reports of the hearing panel (with the names of the students omitted for reasons of  confidentiality) in order to assess the ongoing student concerns about the effectiveness of the disciplinary procedure, the quality and appropriateness of the sanctions imposed, and the deans’ acceptance or modification of them. The administrator or coordinator should submit an annual report to the oversight committee about the disciplinary procedure, its usage by students, and whether it continues to meet student needs. 



  1. Education, Prevention and Outreach


      Programs of education and prevention of sexual assault must be a tangible part of student orientation and ongoing education within the Columbia community and its residential life programs. The programs should include information on self-defense. The Columbia community needs to find ways to change the campus culture in order to reduce and prevent incidents of sexual assault, and to reinforce the message that Columbia does not tolerate sexual assault in its community. Reporting to campus security and the relevant offices needs to be more strongly encouraged and the statistics on such incidents need to be made available to the community online, with relatively frequent updates. The Department of Public Safety at Columbia already circulates a helpful newsletter, but information about campus security and their response and support for incidents of sexual assault should be readily available online, with user-friendly links.[11] We do recognize, however, that the Department of Public Safety is clearly working productively with the other Columbia offices, such as Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, in order to raise awareness on campus about sexual assault and security in general, and our suggestions are intended to help improve an already strong collaboration. Finally, we include as an appendix a suggested poster/website page, modeled on the current “If you or someone you know has been assaulted, support is available.”



  1. Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault

     The Task Force revised the current procedures to streamline them, establish timelines for when each step will take place, and ensure lines of communication among all parties. In addition, the Task Force recommends some new steps to the procedures. First, the Deans will communicate to the Hearing Panel the sanctions imposed, if a student has been found in violation of the policy. Second, if possible, the administrator or coordinator of the Disciplinary Procedure should not be a counselor in the education and prevention programs, but someone housed in a central office of judicial affairs or of student life. If such a central office continues to be unavailable at Columbia, the present situation could remain, in which the coordinator reports to Health Services for the counseling piece of the job and to Student Services for the Disciplinary Procedure piece. However, for reasons stated above, that is not the ideal solution. Nevertheless, the proposed changes to the current disciplinary procedure should help to diminish the perceptions of unfair and unequal treatment of students. The Task Force proposes that when a student files a complaint, the administrator or coordinator assign Advisors to the accusing student and the accused student from among that year’s board of Hearing Panelists, who will serve to facilitate the steps of the hearing process for each student, answer questions that come up, investigate any reasons for delay in the process and communicate with the student about it. The Advisors will not be from the students’ school, nor will the Advisors serve as Hearing Panelists for that case. The proposal below outlines additional issues, including the selection of the Committee on Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures, and the Hearing Panelists.



Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault


The Office of Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault


·The Office of Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault (ODPSA) administers the Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault (DPSA).

·The Office is run by an Administrator who oversees the administration of the Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault.

·The Administrator reports to the Committee on Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures, which provides general oversight of the Policy on Sexual Assault (PSA) and the Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault. Members of the Committee are chosen by the President and serve for three (3) years. 

·The Committee on Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures reports to the President.

·The Committee on Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures selects a Board of Deans to serve as Advisors and Hearing Officers.  Members of the Board of Deans serve a term of three (3) years.  Each complainant and respondent is assigned an Advisor, from the Board of Deans, by the Administrator to provide assistance, advice and support during the hearing process.

·The Committee on Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures also selects a Board of Students to serve as Hearing Officers.  Students Board Members may serve for no more than three (3) years. 

· Each case is heard by a Panel of three (3) Hearing Officers, made up of two (2) deans and one (1) student, selected from the Board of Deans and the Board of Students by the Administrator.   All Hearing Officers receive training on sexual assault prior to service.   No deans or students from the school of either of the parties to a case may serve as Hearing Officers in that case.  No dean may serve as an Advisor to a student in his or her school.  No dean may serve as an Advisor and a Hearing Officer in the same case.   


Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault


1.  The Complaint

A student institutes a formal complaint under the Disciplinary Procedure for Sexual Assault (DPSA) by submitting a written complaint to the DPSA Administrator. 

·A Columbia student who believes he or she has been the victim of sexual misconduct, assault or violence committed by another Columbia student may begin proceedings under the DPSA by contacting the DPSA Administrator by phone, email, or office visit. 

·At this first contact, the DPSA Administrator will explain the procedures and assign to the student a DPSA Advisor to provide assistance, advice and support.  The DPSA will contact the student. 

·If a criminal investigation is underway or if the student has chosen to file a complaint with the police or the District Attorney’s office, the DPSA cannot be invoked until there has been resolution of these outside procedures. 

·To institute formal procedures, the student needs to file a written complaint.  

·A student may bring charges while he or she is enrolled in the school he or she was enrolled in at the time of the alleged violation but in no instance more than one calendar year after the occurrence.  If charges are timely filed against a student who is in his or her final semester but the hearing process has not been concluded by the end of term, the accused student’s diploma may be withheld pending a final disposition in the case. 

·Only Columbia University, Barnard College and Teacher’s College students may avail themselves of the DPSA. 

·Charges may only be brought against students who are currently enrolled in a school or on leave.  In cases of students on leave, if the charge has been timely filed, the hearing may be postponed until the accused student has re-enrolled.  Charges may not be brought against non-students, graduated students, or students who have been permanently withdrawn.


2.   Notice to the Accused Student

On receipt of the written complaint, the DPSA Administrator notifies the student accused of violating the University’s Policy on Sexual Assault (PSA) of the charges which have been filed against him or her and the disciplinary procedures which will be followed.

·The Administrator will set a date for the hearing.

·The DPSA Administrator will assign a DPSA Advisor to the student accused of violating the PSA for the purpose of providing assistance, advice and support with the disciplinary process. 

·The DPSA Administrator will call the student accused of violating the PSA into the DPSA Office to inform him or her of the charges.  During this meeting, the Administrator will provide a written copy of the complaint, a letter stating the charges and the date of the hearing, and a written copy of the DPSA procedures.  The Administrator will explain the process, describe the parties’ rights and responsibilities, and provide the name of the accused student’s DPSA Advisor. 

·After the accused student has received notification of the complaint, the DPSA Advisor shall contact him or her. 


3.   The Right to a Hearing

A student charged with violating the PSA is entitled to notice of the specific charges, an opportunity to be heard, and an opportunity to appeal the disposition of the case to the Dean of his or her school.  A hearing under the DPSA is not a judicial proceeding; violations of the PSA do not subject the accused student to criminal penalties.

·An accused student is presumed not to have violated the PSA.

·The respondent shall be given at least 10 days notice of the hearing except in those rare instances when it may be necessary for reasons of safety or other exigency to schedule a hearing without advance notice.  In the event of such a hearing, the normal process may be suspended though under no circumstance will the student be denied notice of the specific charge, the right to be heard and the right to appeal.

·While it is expected that an accused student will participate in the disciplinary process, he or she retains the right to decline participation; he or she cannot be required to respond to charges or to appear at a hearing.  Similarly, the student charging the violation may subsequently decide to withdraw it.  Neither of these decisions halts the disciplinary process. Once a complaint has been submitted, the Panel assigned to the case has the option to proceed with the hearing and render a decision based on the evidence provided, without or without the participation of the student bringing the complaint and/or the accused student.

·A charging student who wishes to withdraw the complaint and an accused student who does not wish to participate in the hearing process are advised to contact the Administrator to discuss their rights.


4.  Mediation

At any time after a complaint has been received, but prior to a decision being rendered by the Hearing Panel, the parties may agree to settle the matter between themselves with the help of a mediator and the Administrator. 

·To pursue mediation, the interested party or parties must contact the Administrator.

The parties may not contact each other directly to discuss this option but must negotiate through the Administrator

·Mediation may be pursued only with the consent of both parties.

·If mediation is agreed upon, the Administrator will facilitate selection of a mediator.  In the event the decision to proceed by mediation is made after the hearing has begun, the Panel will suspend the hearing to allow the mediation to proceed.

·If the parties are able to reach a resolution by mediation, the hearing will be concluded and the case closed.  No further action may be taken. 

·If the parties are unable to resolve their differences by mediation, the hearing will resume.


5.  The Right to a Supporter

Both students are entitled to have a Supporter present at the hearing.  The Supporter must be a member of the Columbia University community (staff or student) and cannot be an attorney or a parent.

· Both the student bringing the charge and the accused student may decide whether or not to consult the designated DPSA Advisor after the initial contact between the Advisors and the students.  In either case, the student has the right, in addition, to choose a member of the University community to serve as his or her Supporter through the process.  An Advisor may not serve as a Supporter, but he or she may attend the hearing as an observer. 

·A Supporter may not be a witness.  If the Panel believes that a designated Supporter could be called as a witness, it will request that the Supporter be replaced.

·A Supporter’s function is to support the student.  During the hearing, the Supporter may in a non-disruptive manner talk quietly or pass notes to the student; he or she may not pose questions or otherwise intervene in the process.  

·Nothing in these procedures prohibits either student from consulting an attorney but neither is permitted to have an attorney present during the disciplinary hearing or appeal.  The Supporter may not be an attorney.

·The parents of the parties are not permitted to serve as Supporters or to attend either the hearing or the appeal. 


6.  Confidentiality

Confidentiality about the proceedings and the participants in the proceedings must be maintained by all individuals involved. 

·The Administrator will inform both students of the requirements of confidentiality of the proceedings and the need to inform any potential witnesses of these requirements.

·The requirements of confidentiality do not prohibit either student from informing his or her family, a counselor, or a legal advisor of the charges and proceedings or from seeking assistance in his or her defense; nor does it prohibit either from speaking to potential witnesses.

·Breaches of the confidentiality of the proceedings or acts of retaliation against any student bringing a complaint constitute violations of the Sexual Assault Policy.


7.  Constitution of the Hearing Panel

The hearing will take place before a Panel consisting of two deans and one student, all three chosen from a trained pool and all three having no school affiliation or other connection to one of the parties.

·Within ten (10) days of receiving the complaint, the DPSA Administrator shall constitute a Hearing Panel consisting of two deans and one student and notify the parties of its membership.  The Administrator will inform the parties of their right to challenge any member based on a conflict of interest or prior acquaintance or association.  The student member may be excluded by agreement of the two parties.  The parties are given three (3) days after receiving notification of the Panel’s constitution to register their objections to any member. All Panelists have received training on sexual assault prior to service. 


8.  Timetable for the Hearing

Under ordinary circumstances, the hearing shall be set to begin no less than ten (10) and no more than thirty (30) days after the accused student has received written notice of the complaint and a copy of the complainant’s written statement.


9.  Presentation of Evidence

Both the student bringing the complaint and the accused student will be given the opportunity to make a statement, present witness testimony, offer documentary evidence, and provide rebuttal testimony and evidence.  Copies of all written documents submitted by either party to the Administrator in preparation for the hearing will be given to the Panel and to the opposing party. 

·In advance of the hearing, the accused student is advised to provide to the Administrator a written response to the charge, a description of the evidence he or she would like to present, a list of witnesses to be called, and a set of questions to be put to the student bringing charges and the witnesses to be called. 

·The student bringing the charge may also submit a description of the evidence he or she would like to present, a list of witnesses to be called, and a set of questions to be put to the accused student and the witnesses to be called.

·The Panel will determine the witnesses to be called, the questions to be asked of them, and the documents to be reviewed as deemed necessary to assure fairness for the parties and to observe the safeguards of these Disciplinary Procedures.  See e.g. Nos. 3 and 11. 

·At least three (3) days in advance of the first session of the hearing, the parties shall submit to the Administrator for distribution to the Hearing Panel a brief summary of the anticipated testimony of each of their witnesses.  In the event the Panel decides to hear a witness's testimony, the brief summary will be provided to the other party, if possible, two days in advance of the witness's appearance.

·The Administrator will schedule the appearance of witnesses, advise them about the procedure, and notify them of the requirements of confidentiality.

·During the hearing, both students will have the opportunity to submit questions before a witness testifies, during a break in testimony, and after a witness has testified. Witnesses may be recalled and questioned by the Panel as it deems necessary in the interest of fairness.   

· Parties may offer the names of rebuttal witnesses to be called; they may also offer rebuttal evidence.  The Panel may call rebuttal witness and admit rebuttal evidence as it deems necessary in the interest of fairness.


10.  Testimony by Closed-Circuit Television

At the request of one of the parties, provisions will be made for each to watch a simultaneous transmission of the other’s testimony on closed-circuit television, rather than have them present in the same room to hear the other testify.  The Panel may also decide that in some circumstances witnesses' testimony should be made available to the parties by simultaneous closed circuit-transmission.


11.  Hearing Procedure

During a hearing, the Hearing Panel shall make all procedural decisions they deem necessary to assure fairness and avoid undue delay. 

·The Hearing Panel will determine the admissibility, relevance, and materiality of the evidence offered, and may exclude evidence or witnesses which they deem to be cumulative, irrelevant or disruptive.

· The hearing is not an adversarial courtroom-type proceeding.  Conformity to the legal rules of evidence is not required.  A party does not necessarily have the right to be present to hear other parties or witnesses or to cross examine them.

·Prior to and during the hearing, at the discretion of the Panel, extensions of time may be granted to either party for good reason.

·The Hearing Panel may stop the hearing at any time if any person becomes disruptive.

·An accused student has the right to testify in his or her own defense but may choose not to do so. In the event either the complainant or accused chooses not to appear or to testify, he or she will be informed that the Hearing Panel may nonetheless proceed to a decision.

·Either party may submit evidence of the history of any sexual relationship between the parties. If either party submits such evidence, then the other party has the right to rebut that evidence.

·The prior sexual history of either party, other than the history of a sexual relationship between the parties, is not admissible in the hearing, except testimony submitted by a party concerning his or her own sexual history.

·A verbatim transcript of the hearing will be kept for the use of the Panel and for purposes of appeal.  

·The Hearing Panel may seek guidance from the Office of General Counsel at any time prior to or during the hearing with respect to procedural issues.


12.  Closing Statements

Before the Panel retires for its deliberations, each party shall have the opportunity to present a written or oral argument, based on the evidence submitted, in support of his or her position.  Both parties may also submit an “impact statement” to the Panel.  In the event of a finding of a violation of the Sexual Assault Policy, the Panel may consider the impact statements in making a recommendation for a penalty; it shall not consider impact statements in the absence of the finding of a violation.


13.  The Panel’s Findings

After considering all the evidence offered at the hearing, the Panel shall determine whether the accused student has violated the PSA.  It shall then notify the parties and the Dean of Students of the accused student’s school of its decision.  In the event the Panel concludes that a violation of the PSA has occurred, the Panel shall recommend a sanction to the accused student’s Dean of Students. 

·All deliberations of the Hearing Panel will be held in private.

·In making its determination the Panel will rely on the evidence, testimonial and documentary, offered at the hearing.  As part of the decision process, the Panel shall prepare a written report, summarizing the evidence, stating the rationale for the decision, and, in the appropriate case, recommending a penalty. 

·For there to be a finding of a violation of the PSA, the Panel need not be unanimous but both deans must be convinced by clear and convincing evidence that the violation has occurred. 

·In the event the Panel determines there has been a violation of the PSA, it shall submit its written report to both students and to the Dean of Students of the accused student’s school.

The Panel shall also reconvene the parties to inform them of the findings.  If it is not possible for all members of the Panel to attend this session, they shall designate a member or members to represent the Panel. 

·If the student member of the Panel disagrees with the Panel’s findings, he or she may write a dissenting report to be submitted to the Dean of Students of the accused student’s school together with the written report submitted by the deans.

·In the event the Panel determines there has been no violation of the PSA, it shall provide a summary report to both students and notice of its finding to the Dean of Students of the accused student’s school.  It shall submit the written report to the Administrator for the ODPSA files.


14.  The Imposition of Sanctions

When a violation has been found and a penalty recommended, the Dean of Students of the accused student’s school may choose to implement or modify the Panel’s recommendation; he or she cannot change the Panel’s finding.  Penalties include but are not limited to probation, suspension, or dismissal.   They may also include a prescribed educational program.

·The Dean of Students of the accused student’s school will inform both students, the Panel, and the DPSA Administrator of the penalty to be imposed.

·The Dean of Students will also inform the accused student of his or her right of appeal.


15.  The Appeals Process

A student found to have violated the PSA has the right to appeal the decision and the penalty to the Dean of his or her school.

·The student must submit the appeal within thirty (300 days of receiving notice of the penalty imposed by the Dean of his or her school. 

·The Dean will send notice of the appeal to the Panel and to the DPSA Administrator

·The appeal must be in writing and clearly state the grounds for the appeal.

·The Dean is expected to rely upon the written record of the hearing; he or she may consult with the Panel members but ordinarily he or she will not conduct a new factual investigation or consider new evidence.

·The standard for review is whether the decision made and the penalty imposed are reasonable under all of the circumstances of the case.

·Both parties, the Panel and the DPSA Administrator will be informed of the outcome of the appeal.

·There is no further right to appeal within the University.


Appendix: Proposed poster/website page “If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, support is available.”  








[1]  The Task Force would like to thank members from spring 2004, Margo Amgott (Health Services), Coco Fusco (NT, Arts and Senate), and four students who graduated, Alida Bouris (Social Work and Senate), Melanie Flamm (Barnard), Brian Pompeo (School of Public Health and Senate), and Jax Russo (Columbia College). We would also like to thank Rachel Efron (Health Services) for her invaluable help last year.

[2]  The Columbia Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure may be found at www.columbia.edu/cu/vpaa/eoaa/docs/discrim_sexharass.html and in Facets pp. 104-08.

[3] Particularly troubling was the fact that most of the email correspondence expressed concerns about sexual harassment at Columbia, and gratitude that the University had established a Task Force to look into it. We will return to this point in the recommendations.

[4] In some colleges and universities, the general term “sexual misconduct” refers to any violation of codes of conduct that is sexual in nature. In such cases, “sexual misconduct” is then broken down into categories such as the broad “sexual violence” (which can refer to sexual assault in general or to any abuse occurring in intimate relationships), or sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is rare to find the term “sexual misconduct” used to refer exclusively to sexual assault, as Columbia does.

[6] The full text of the Senate resolutions may be found at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/senate/resolutions/99-00/TF022500.html.


[7] The minutes of the meeting may be found at… http://www.columbia.edu/cu/senate/  (then click Senate Minutes, then 2003-2004, September)


[8] In addition to the similarity of office names and overlap of responsibilities, we noted that the signage in Lerner did not match the names and acronyms of the offices themselves.

[9] The extensive website of the Department of Justice Violence against Women Office (VAWO) provides useful data and helpful information on sexual assault, including reporting to police and seeking medical attention, myths and facts about sexual assault, awareness information on sexual assault and violence against women online resources: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/vawo/SexAssaultInfo.htm.

[10] Studies confirm that recidivism in cases of sexual offenses remains a major problem.

[11] The print newsletter for April does contain a link at the bottom of the page, www.columbia.edu/cu/publicsafety, but we were unable in various attempts to gain access to the site.