Columbia University

From ignoring broken confidentiality to paying for rally’s cleanup, an issue of favoritism

Columbia University systematically used its own resources to attack a student whom it cleared of sexual-assault allegations, according to a lawsuit by Paul Nungesser against school leaders.

Though it doesn’t name his accuser, the so-called “Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz, as a defendant, the suit repeatedly cites communication between the ex-sex partners as evidence of Sulkowicz’s duplicity.

Columbia took the “politically correct route” in promoting Sulkowicz’s “Carry that Weight” art project, Nungesser attorney Paul Byler told The College Fix in a phone interview.

By toting her mattress around campus as a protest of Columbia’s refusal to expel Nungesser, Sulkowicz has enchanted national figures such as Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who brought her to this year’s State of the Union address and flat-out called Nungesser a “rapist.”

The campus judgment directed at Nungesser and his defenders throughout the ordeal bothered even one of Sulkowicz’s supporters, who wrote a letter in the Columbia Spectator asking students to “end Emma’s story.”



School failed to protect a student it exonerated

Though Columbia cleared Nungesser under the low “preponderance of evidence” standard and a subsequent New York County investigation ended for lack of evidence, Columbia continued to promote and fund – both directly and indirectly – many of Sulkowicz’s exploits, the lawsuit claims.

Lawyer Byler told The Fix the school had an obligation to protect Nungesser.

“If you’re a male and you’re exonerated,” the only conclusion is there’s “no merit at all to the accusation,” Byler said.

The problems started when the university began tolerating “and then embraced” Sulkowicz’s behavior, Byler said.

Columbia gave course credit to Sulkowicz for her mattress-oriented performance art project and paid most of a bill for a rally against sexual assault headlined by Sulkowicz, the suit says.

Efforts “to wreak havoc on Paul’s life” were aided by Professor Jon Kessler, named as a defendant, who “jointly designed” the mattress project with Sulkowicz as her senior thesis.

By allowing “Emma to carry the mattress into each of her classes, the library, and on Columbia campus-provided transportation,” Columbia is facilitating gender-based harassment and stalking of Nungesser, the suit claims.

School guilty of ‘sponsoring a defamation and harassment movement’

bollingerUniversity President Lee Bollinger, another defendant, showed “contemptible moral cowardice in bowing down to the witch hunt against an innocent student” by repeatedly praising Sulkowicz’s project, the suit says.

University resources were used to slur Nungesser: Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender published articles praising Sulkowicz on its blog and promoted her art project, the suit says.

Columbia bent its own rules to help Sulkowicz’s cause, according to the suit.

Following the rally where Sulkowicz spoke of her own alleged rape by Nungesser, Columbia picked up $1,000 of the $1,500 cost of cleanup rather than requiring its student organization sponsors to pay the full cost – “effectively sponsoring a defamation and harassment movement against Paul.”

The lawsuit alleges the university failed to protect Nungesser numerous times, including after Sulkowicz broke the confidentiality agreement.

It failed to penalize students who broke confidentiality agreements by speaking with the Spectator and allowed the paper to name Nungesser as the alleged rapist.

Bollinger patted the university on the back in an October New Republic article, praising its efforts against sexual assault, while ignoring the universities’ activities and omissions “that had falsely branded Paul a rapist and constituted gender based harassment,” the suit says.




Contradicting the DA

Throughout the ordeal, Sulkowicz repeatedly lied or bended the truth, according to the lawsuit.

During the investigation by the university, she “was able to continuously alter and tweak important facts,” and she claimed at her April 2014 press conference with Sen. Gillibrand that her “serial rapist” was on campus, despite knowing that he was studying abroad in Prague.

In August 2014, after the New York County district attorney’s office cited a lack of “reasonable suspicion” as its reason for not bringing charges, Sulkowicz claimed that it was she who had decided against pressing charges against Nungesser, citing the long wait to go to trial.

She repeated this claim in an interview with Democracy Now.

Sulkowicz and Nungesser had engaged in consensual sexual intercourse previous to the alleged rape and she was often flirty with him, according to the suit.

As Robby Soave at Reason noted, “the messages she continued to send him even after he allegedly attacked her—as well as some of her demonstrably false assertions, including that she never brought up anal sex with him—certainly look bad for her.”

Columbia University declined to comment and Sulkowicz did not respond to requests for comment.

College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

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He’s popular on daytime television but apparently not among some colleagues in the medical field.

Dr. Mehmet Oz should be fired from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons – or at least removed as vice chair of the Department of Surgery – a group of doctors told the university in a letter last week, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

The group was led by Henry Miller of Stanford University, and it called Oz unqualified because of his “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine” and his promotion of “quack treatments.”

The doctors said Oz peddles treatments “in the interest of personal financial gain”:

“Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both,” the letter concluded. “Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz’s presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable.”

Columbia is defending Oz on academic-freedom grounds, while Oz himself wrote on Facebook – apparently in response to the letter – that his show provides “multiple points of view,” which “doesn’t sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts”:

For example, I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labeled like they are in most countries around the world. I will address this on the show next week.

Read the story.

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If you want to peruse any records associated with your admission to Columbia University, you’ll be quite limited in what you receive.

What Columbia junior Frederic Enea got back when he made a request to do just that included his original college application and an email sent to the school by his high school guidance counselor, but “any documents created or comments made by Columbia admissions officers were missing from his file.”

This is policy, it seems.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jessica Marinaccio said that in the admissions process, admissions officers create a written assessment of the student’s application called a “reader rating sheet.” That document is shared with the admissions committee, which may add comments.

“We have a document retention policy here at Columbia that has been in place for a little while,” Marinaccio said. “And part of that document retention policy is that we do delete, we remove those reader rating sheets before a student matriculates.”

According to Marinaccio, those records are destroyed to provide students with a clean slate when they begin college.

“If we feel they’re going to be good fits here and they’re admissible and they make the choice to come, [their reader rating sheets] shouldn’t necessarily follow them throughout their entire career here,” Marinaccio said.

Columbia is the latest institution known to liquidate such documents.

Stanford began doing so shortly after the anonymous group Fountain Hopper “sent emails to its subscribers encouraging them to request access to their admissions records.”

Yale has eliminated such records, too.

The group Students for Fair Admissions has sent letters to all Ivy League schools but Harvard (with whom it’s currently involved in litigation) requesting they retain their admissions archives. SFA says “schools should not be able to ‘destroy evidence essential to judicial review of its admissions policies,’ especially if such policies were racially discriminatory.”

Unfortunately, currently there is nothing in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that prevents universities from extinguishing student admissions forms.

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the year of student Frederic Enea, and to note that his college application and counselor email were not the exclusive contents of what he received from Admissions.

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Over 450 Columbia students sent school administrators a “letter of noncompliance” regarding the school’s “sexual respect” program — which all students were to have completed by March 13.

Students complained that the program “did not address failures in the University’s sexual assault policy and was unclear in its overall purpose.”

A day before the official due date for completion, the Columbia Daily Spectator had detailed the frustration many had with the new mandate.

This latest turn of events, however, has activists focused more on the (supposed) shortcomings of the college’s sexual assault policies, rather than the hassles many had experienced in attempting to fulfill the obligation.

The Spectator reports:

“We’re being asked to participate in these requirements by a University administration that has not acknowledged that it’s under federal investigation, let alone apologized for the failings for which it’s under investigation,” Alix Rule, a sociology Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who drafted the letter with other students in her department, said.

“Overall, it puts responsibility on the individuals, but it takes away responsibility from the institution,” Olivia Nicol, a sociology Ph.D. student in GSAS who helped draft the letter, said. “The problem is that Columbia has not recognized clearly what happened, logically publicized it, or admitted any guilt.”

Andrea Crow, an English and comparative literature Ph.D. student in GSAS, said she signed the petition because she saw the program and its use of phrases such as “sexual respect” as a way of sweeping existing issues under the rug.

Rule added that “The people who signed on are not lazy or evading the issue. They [administrators] should regard our non-participation as the conscientious expression of our position on the institutional handling of the issue of sexual assault. We’re disappointed.”

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A month ago Columbia University revealed its “sexual respect” education program — a requirement designed “to reinforce that community citizenship is a critical part of being a Columbia student at any school, and that sexual respect is integral to what it means to be a member of this community.”

There are several ways for students to meet the requirement, even including submitting an art piece.

But it seems the program wasn’t put together very well, which is bad thing considering students were to have completed it by yesterday.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports that “a number of issues have surfaced with the program’s implementation, from technical difficulties with signing up for workshops to student complaints about the content of some workshop options.”

For example, eight survivors of sexual assault had showed up for a workshop back on February 25, only no one from the university was there to run it.

Some other concerns are more of the PC variety: Some students of the “working group” that helped put together the program are upset that an option of watching a video and “reflecting” on it was added early this year:

“The content being discussed in these workshops and in these videos and these reflections is so specific and so complicated, and people will have so many misconceptions about that going in that students will benefit most from a workshop,” working group member Abby Porter, CC ’17, said.

In other words, “we’re upset because the video option doesn’t allow us to ‘re-educate’ students and to direct them to the ‘proper’ mode of thinking.”

If you’re skeptical of my bit of editorializing there, then check out how these working group folk felt about the art option: “Some student members of the working group expressed concerns that the arts option was a less effective and less educational way to learn about sexual respect in comparison to the workshops.”

How dare these leaders diminish the learning style of those who prefer to express themselves artistically!

The Spectator’s Dan Garisto says that even the very definition of “sexual respect” can be found nowhere on the school’s website, nor in any university press release.

Looks like he’s right — here’s Columbia’s Sexual Respect website.  Maybe they’ve added a definition since Garisto’s column, but I don’t see it.

And as Garisto says, “… how about we actually define ‘sexual respect’ and stop using it as a buzzword?”

But perhaps most embarrassing is this ridiculous video about the program. Tell me President Lee Bollinger doesn’t look like he’s thinking “What the &*%@ am I doing here”?

He’d rather be rearranging his sock drawer.

Not to mention, the production value of this thing seems to rival that of any public middle school. Hell, the academic “rigor” of this entire program appears to rival that of a middle school.

At best it’s akin to the material from a typical ed school or an assorted “studies” class.

Check it:

“This is an opportunity to create art about the connection between sexual respect, and membership in the Columbia University community”? and “We encourage the expression of all identities and all … ‘villages’?


This is from the Ivy League, folks.

Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. (@ColossusRhodey)

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IMAGES: airsoenxen/Flickr, YouTube screencap

It’s great to see students who are part of the majority defend the rights of the minority – especially those who show healthy skepticism toward idols.

By doing so, Columbia University student Cameron Fegers has put a big fat target on his back.

He isn’t siding with Paul Nungesser, the exchange student accused of raping a fellow student, Emma Sulkowicz, who turned the encounter into a performance art project wherein she carries her mattress  around campus and then complains about the media bugging her.

But Fegers writes in the Columbia Spectator that he’s tired of the “brazen political climate on campus” in which Sulkowicz supporters feel free to harass and shame those who don’t “believe Emma” or just don’t care, “giving a far-reaching platform to one person”:

These days, students are asked who they believe in the “Emma story” in exactly the same way as friends asking each other if they have seen an iconic movie like The Godfather. If you’ve seen and enjoyed it, you’ll scream in euphoria about its awesomeness, but if you haven’t, you blankly stare back, wondering why seeing such a movie is a prerequisite for gaining additional “cool points.”

Fegers is no right-wing ideologue – he’s a former executive board member of the College Democrats and currently sits on the Student Health Advisory Committee. He blogs at the Huffington Post and his LinkedIn profile pic shows him with the (embattled) head of the Democratic National Committee, for heaven’s sake.


Yet he sounds like the winning team at George Washington University’s campus debate this week on whether “liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus”:

Students may not know what they believe, because, once removed from the classroom, they aren’t given the space to believe anything outside the norm and can be disenfranchised by their peers from forming any opinion at all. The extent to which we actively drown out dissenting voices on this issue symbolizes a judgment call from the masses—that the opinions of those who don’t believe Emma are inferior and unworthy of consideration. Students are afraid to disagree with what is considered by the “perceived” majority to be a noble and just cause for fear that campus peers will categorize them as pro-rape. Students are afraid to stand up and ask, “why?” We will never know if the number of students with a different perspective outweighs the opinion of the “perceived” majority because enough student activists within the “perceived” majority have made it inappropriate and undesirable to criticize the merits of sexual violence activism.

Fegers is worried that Sulkowicz and Nungesser will continue trading public barbs “until the Cubs win another World Series,” marginalizing the bigger movement to stop sexual violence on campus:

[Sulkowicz] has become a larger-than-life international and campus figure. Some may say she is a hero, others a propagandist. I believe she has an important message that everyone should hear. But I am also very doubtful that time spent debating the truth of her story and allowing Paul a platform is constructive. In spite of their unintentionality, the media continues to polarize our campus to extreme perspectives based on a figurehead’s individual experience instead of on the merits and flaws of an internal campus movement.

We need to focus our discussions and energy on fostering a community dedicated to combating sexual violence. Encourage others and their ideas, however unpopular, that they may join the discussion to end sexual violence.

Well said, Cameron. Enjoy the “rape denialist” label.

h/t Daily Pennsylvanian

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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IMAGE: YouTube screenshot, Cameron Fegers/LinkedIn