Columbia Spectator

Columbia University’s new “gender-based misconduct policy” and associated procedures for responding to campus sexual-assault allegations have garnered criticism from a coalition of victim advocacy groups.

The groups claim they were not consulted during the revision process despite their efforts for at least a year pushing the university to alter how it responds to sexual assault.

The revised policy stands out for allowing both accuser and accused to retain advisers such as lawyers, and for seeking to get people with “relevant legal training” – such as judges – to serve on hearing panels.

The Huffington Post reported that “a small collection of students” met with the university president’s special adviser in early August and was “informed a new policy would be unveiled” that same week. “Students were not given copies of the policy and not provided an opportunity to give feedback.”

rapeGroups “submitted pages of policy proposals … made pleas for reform on national television and the front pages of newspapers,” said No Red Tape Columbia, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault, Title IX Team and Take Back The Night of Barnard College in a statement published in the Columbia Spectator.

“We have repeatedly requested meetings with top administrators,” yet all such efforts “have been rejected or ignored,” they said.

The changes to the policy are “largely an effort to ensure their baseline compliance with the recently enacted” Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act and Department of Education regulations, the group said, but “does not reflect students’ needs, and changes made are not adequate to ensure student safety.”

Most of the changes to the policy modify the previous adjudication and sanctioning processes for sexual assault cases.

One of the most notable changes is the removal of students from hearing panels, which were previously comprised of one student and two university officials.

Under the new rules, panels “will generally have three members drawn from a small group of specially-trained University student affairs administrators,” and “in certain matters, the University may include retired judges, lawyers or other individuals with relevant experience and special training.”

Another new stipulation allows for both the victim and alleged assailant to choose an adviser, which can even be an attorney, to “support the student and provide advice about the investigation and disciplinary process.”

The renamed Gender-Based Misconduct Office gets several new positions under the revision: three case managers “who will serve as a neutral point person for both complainants and respondents throughout the adjudication process”;  six new staff positions in the Office of Sexual Violence Response;  and two more Title IX investigators, for four total, according to the Spectator.

One thing that remains unchanged is the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof that hearing panels use to determine violations. This means an alleged assailant can be found responsible if the hearing panel is “convinced based on the information it considers that the respondent was more likely than not to have engaged in the conduct at issue.”

The coalition’s letter in the Spectator, among other things, faults the lack of “clear or useful sanctioning guidelines” in the new procedures, failure to “sufficiently improve the training for staff members who interact with survivors,” and the decision to leave appeals “in the hands of Deans with no expertise, inadequate training, and a clear bias.”

columbia-commencement.llee_wu.flickrVarious student groups have been pushing Columbia to revise how the university deals with sexual assault allegations at least since October, when the Columbia Democrats circulated a petition calling for the release of anonymous, aggregated campus sexual assault statistics.

Initially, officials from the university refused to disclose the statistics, but ultimately reversed its decision in January under pressure from students and the advocacy groups.

The Student Action Committee of Columbia University issued a statement in January requesting the university “clarify and initiate any needed reforms to the adjudication process within the Office of Gender-Based Misconduct,” and the university agreed to a town hall on March 14 with the advocacy groups, students, faculty and administrators.

Further, in April, a group of 23 Columbia and Barnard students jointly filed a federal complaint against the university for violating Title IX, Title II and the Clery Act.

Despite these allegations, Columbia is not one of the 72 universities and colleges currently being investigated by the Department of Education, according to statistics released to The College Fix.

The new policy notes that student groups “may provide additional input throughout the coming academic year.”

The Columbia policy follows a bevy of recent federal legislation addressing sexual-assault investigations on campus, most prominently the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act , as The College Fix has reported.

Critics of the legislation, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argue that the bill does not protect due process rights of alleged sexual assaulters or provide them with equal resources as victims of alleged sexual violence.

College Fix contributor Julianne Stanford is a student at the University of Arizona.

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IMAGES: Ville Miettinen/Flickr, llee_wu/Flickr

Columbia University science professor Emlyn Hughes made national news last week after his stage performance in front of his class during which he stripped to his boxers, showed clips of the 9/11 attacks, had ninjas slice through a stuffed animal, and other strange acts.

On Monday, he returned to his classroom, where he teaches “Frontiers of Science,” and offered a few more antics, but kept things much more tame.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

Hughes began this lecture, like the previous one, with rap music—“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio—set to a video of nuclear devastation, and also featured a ninja, who did not return after the introductory sequence.

Clad once again in a black hoodie and sunglasses, Hughes acknowledged the national hubbub over his performance, saying that he had turned Horace Mann Auditorium at Teachers College into “the most famous classroom in America.”

But in spite of his odd attire, he quickly got down to business with a lecture that examined both the physics and politics of nuclear weapons in detail.

Only one other stunt occurred in the course of the hour-and-a-half long lecture. As Hughes discussed the repellent properties of like particles, twin girls walked onstage from opposite sides of the auditorium, sat down at desks, and began to type on laptops in sync.

But as to whether students are paying any attention to the class remains to be seen. Student Alexander Pines, on Bwog.com, offered a scathing review of Columbia’s Frontiers of Science mandate in his post Monday:

I’ll be frank, Frontiers of Science is a bulls**t course. Instead of providing an in-depth exploration of one or two key topics in modern scientific study, it seeks to instead condense incredibly complex subjects (quantum mechanics, particle physics, special relativity, neurobiology, to name a few) into easy to swallow one and a half hour lectures that act as little more than cocktail party fodder. Instead of giving all undergraduates a basic background in science and bridging the “divide between science and humanities in the minds” of college students, Frontiers strips complicated ideas of their nuance and asks students to swallow and regurgitate information instead of considering it critically. It is the anti-Lit Hum, a class of reduction of critical thought instead of expansion. For this reason, it’s one of the most controversial pieces of the Core and is continually being considered for review.

Unsurprisingly, Frontiers is ill attended and students who do show up rarely pay attention–hell, I’m sitting in Frontiers as I write this now. A cursory glance of the crowd will show rows of MacBooks open to Facebook, the New York Times, Oscar night fashion recaps, and shoe shopping on Zappos (and that’s just what I can see from my seat). A friend of mine who had the class last semester told me she sat in the back with her headphones in and watched porn every week. When I tell upperclassmen that I’m off to a Frontiers lecture, they laugh and tell me to take a nap instead. …

An honest glance into the wild world of an Ivy League higher education. It’s worth $40,000 a year, eh folks?

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A science professor at Columbia University on Monday began a quantum mechanics lecture by stripping into his boxers and eating a banana while rap music played in the background.

Then it got weird.

The professor, Emlyn Hughes, proceeded to redress himself in black, complete with sunglasses, and hug himself on stage at the front of the classroom, a large theater.

As Hughes sat in the fetal position, two “actors” dressed in ninja costumes walked onstage and placed white stuffed animals – lambs – on stools before the audience, according to a student-recorded video of the incident posted on Vimeo.com by “Bwog,” a campus news website run by Columbia students.

The ninjas blindfolded the lambs, then a ninja impaled one of the stuffed animals with a long sword and banged it against the stool – right as an image of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers on 9/11 started rolling on a large screen behind the performance.

Students in the video could initially be heard laughing and giggling and questioning the performance when it started, even squealing in shock with Hughes had first undressed.

“I am so confused,” one female student said on the video. “What is happening.”

After the lamb’s grisly “death” and the images of 9/11, the footage turned into a montage that included clips of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Hitler – as well as numerous shots of war images – tanks rolling, bombs exploding, people hanging upside-down, troops marching, and the like.

As the footage continued, a rap song called “Drop It Like It’s Hot” played in the background.

Students’ reaction turned from laughter and amused surprised to concern, according to comments heard on the video.

“What the f**k is happening,” one female student asked. “Is this real life? … How does this relate to anything?”

Eventually, the film ended and the professor began his lecture. But when he first grabbed his microphone, at least one student mistook it for a gun, saying with concern: “He has a gun, he has a gun.”

The bizarre episode lasted less than ten minutes. The Vimeo clip included the very first part of Hughes’ lecture, in which he told students that “in order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start over again. … Everything you do in your everyday life is totally opposite of what you are going to learn in quantum mechanics.”

The Columbia Daily Spectator, the student campus newspaper that reported the news Monday of the professor’s performance, quoted several students who said they were troubled and confused by what unfolded.

Student Maura Barry-Garland told The Spectator that “the incident was all the more disconcerting because Hughes did not provide an explanation for using those images.

“It was very disturbing, and I don’t think anyone in the audience got what he was doing. He didn’t explain it or provide a context, and that’s why it was offensive to me and to other people,” she told the student newspaper.

The Spectator also reported Hughes’ performance Monday was not his first “stunt,” noting in a 2011 lecture “he showed students nude photos of Woodstock attendees.”

According to his bio page on the university’s website, Hughes stated that “via my background in nuclear physics activities, I have a deep interest in issues relevant to nuclear proliferation.”

WARNING: Video contains some profanity. (NSFW)

FroSci Gone Wild from Bwog on Vimeo.

Click here to read the Columbia Daily Spectator article on the incident.

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IMAGE: Bwog/Vimeo.com

One week after Rebecca Weber started her first year at Columbia, she looked up to see black smoke floating over campus.

It had drifted from the smoldering area that would come to be known as Ground Zero, an image that has remained with Weber for the last decade.

“I felt like Columbia was a world away from the attacks, and yet there were reminders that that was totally not true,” Weber, CC ’05, said recently. “That was a very jarring reminder that although 116th Street seemed very far from [downtown] Manhattan, it is physically not that far at all.”

Columbia University lost 41 affiliates in the terrorist attacks of that day. For the class of 2005, the attacks came to define their four years, and future classes have felt their effects ripple through the University in other ways—academic and religious, social and psychological.

Ten years later, students and administrators who were on campus at the time of the attacks said feelings of fear, confusion, and unity have stayed with them.

Austin Quigley, the dean of Columbia College from 1995 to 2009, described the feeling of loss as a collective emotion—“even if we didn’t know them, they were one of us.”
A decade later, he said the sense of unity that followed has also left its mark.

“There is a much stronger sense of people feeling that they need to contribute to the place, to take some responsibility for it and to strengthen it for people that come after them,” he said.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.

Sean MacKenzie, CC ’13, freezes as a shot is fired from somewhere in the distance. His grip tightens on his gun. The enemy­—a group of Spanish-speaking, Islamic fundamentalists from the Caucasus—has surprised Task Force Blue from a nearby tower. The cadets fall to the ground and wait for orders from their squad leader. This mission isn’t going as planned.

Several times a semester, MacKenzie and the handful of Columbia students who participate in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps through Fordham University, practice tactical drills in a forest in central New Jersey or upstate New York in preparation for the work they will one day do as military officers. On Sunday after two days of simulated wartime scenarios, mostly in the rain, they return to Morningside Heights with just a few hours of sleep and papers to work on in Butler.

“It’s the equivalent of being an athlete at Columbia. Except when an athlete asks a professor for an extension, the professor says, ‘Yes,’” said Jose Robledo, GS and a veteran who hopes to return to service as an officer.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.

Just days after a national government shutdown was averted, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke about the crisis in state budgets at the Italian Academy.

Gillibrand was the keynote speaker for the 14th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum on Monday, and in her speech she called on students to create change and get involved in public policy in a time of pressing budgetary crises.

“Budgets are moral documents, they’re about choices that we make, what are our core values, what should we care about,” Gillibrand said.

“What we see at the federal level are choices that are not the right choices for our future—cutting education, cutting women’s healthcare,” Gillibrand said. “How can you cut spending for Pap smears, for mammograms … these are the safety nets that we need for all our families.”

Gillibrand spent little time on budgetary issues at the state level, and instead focused on her personal political experience. She described her interest in politics as stemming from an event similar to the Dinkins Forum.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.