Response to the Report of the Anti-Bullying Working Group by the Policy and Planning Committee of the Arts and Sciences
The Policy and Planning Committee offers input on the Anti-Bullying Working Group's recommendations based on extensive feedback gathered through meetings with various A&S constituents.
In response to the Report and Recommendations of the Working Group on Anti-Bullying, the Policy and Planning Committee (PPC) of the Arts and Sciences has convened several meetings with Arts and Sciences Faculty, conferred with departmental Chairs, Senate representatives, and representatives of the Lecturers’ Advisory Committee (LAC) and the Junior Faculty Advisory Board (JFAB). We have also held meetings with offices responsible for addressing issues related to bullying and other forms of workplace conduct. The purpose of these meetings has been to learn about existing mechanisms and their limits, ensure broad dissemination of the Report among faculty, facilitate discussion of abusive conduct and issues related to bullying in the Arts and Sciences, and formulate a coherent response to the Recommendations of the Working Group. We understand the original report to be a set of recommendations that do not yet have the status of policy. This document is therefore intended to serve as a response to the original report and, with similar contributions from other bodies across the university, to inform the creation of formal policies and related processes.
PPC recognizes the need for a policy and associated robust practices that can address and reduce forms of abusive conduct not covered by existing policies and/or that are not actionable except with regard to persons or categories protected by law.
A clear audit of existing policies and offices concerned with abusive conduct, their specific domains and limits of responsibility should precede the creation of any new offices or programs in order to preclude redundancy and/or overlap that may result in additional conflict, unnecessarily prolonged investigation of a single case, and unnecessary costs.
Policy should be grounded in clear definitions, with recognition that many individual instances of unwelcome behavior will fall into a gray area. Bullying must be defined in a way that mitigates confusion with legitimate constructive (and sometimes severe) criticism undertaken as part of expected or required professional and educational supervision.
Anti-Bullying policy should distinguish between repeated actions or deliberate efforts to intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or undermine others, on one hand, and speech or action that is unintentionally or inadvertently offensive to another individual, on the other (including on social media). Mediation may be called for in the case of the latter.
Specific consideration should be built into policy and practice that mitigates bias and stereotyping in both complaints and their adjudication.
Anti-Bullying policy should not impinge on the values of Academic Freedom.
Matters of academic review, including evaluations for the purposes of renewal, promotion and tenuring (or compensation) should not be determined by a policy committee or one dedicated to the adjudication, remediation and/or disciplining of misconduct. Responsibility for these decisions should remain where it is: with departments, the PTC and TRAC.
All accused persons should be afforded the presumption of innocence even as measures are taken to protect complainants during and after the adjudication process.
Response mechanisms should be proportionate to the kinds of offense being adjudicated. No one bringing charges of deliberate intimidation, threat, or humiliation should be forced to undergo face-to-face mediation with the accused.
Fact-finding and adjudication of the nature of the alleged offense should be external to the unit of the parties involved in a complaint.
The principle of restorative justice, which is proposed as a framework by the authors of the Anti-Bullying Report, may be appropriately pursued through community-oriented conversation, institution-wide training, guidance on mentorship, and relevant, division- or field-appropriate policy, but it should not guide the individual mediation and/or disciplinary action associated with individual transgressions.
The development of any formal policy (including codes of conduct) and the establishment of any new office to implement said policy should be undertaken by a committee that has knowledgeable representation from all schools and/or major fields of activity in the Arts and Sciences, including the Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, School of the Arts, and the School of Professional Studies.
Record-keeping of lodged and proven complaints should be aggregated and shared with the community on an annual basis. Demographic data on objects of complaint should be kept so as to permit analyses of possible bias.
There should be robust discussion of whether the requirement of mandatory bystander reporting adopted by EOAA should apply to cases of perceived bullying.
PPC recognizes the need for a policy and associated robust practices that can address and reduce forms of abusive conduct not covered by existing policies and/or that are not actionable except with regard to persons or categories protected by law. We support a policy that is committed to an enabling and equitable pursuit of learning, research and work for all of Columbia’s students, researchers, faculty and staff.
To ensure that the gaps in our existing framework are covered, it is important to delineate the specific domains and jurisdictions of existing policy. We must also clearly define actions and forms of behavior that, not being covered by existing policy, are deemed acceptable by community and professional standards, while also asserting the value of Academic Freedom in a university.
A clear account of existing policies and offices concerned with abusive conduct, and their specific domains and limits of responsibility, should precede and inform the elaboration of any new policy and the creation of any offices or programs to implement them, with due consideration to the budgetary entailments associated with them.
The determination of guidelines for renewal, promotion and tenuring of faculty (as currently proposed in Section 5 of the original Report) should not reside with a committee dedicated to the prevention and remediation of Bullying, any more than it resides with any other disciplinary entity at Columbia. We strongly reject this intrusion into matters of academic governance.
Bullying is a term used in popular speech to cover a wide array of personally and socially offensive and abusive behaviors, not all of which can be addressed or remedied by formal regulation. Anti-Bullying policy should focus on repeated actions or deliberate efforts to intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or undermine others. Such a policy should address those who refuse to modify behavior in line with professional norms when it has been demonstrated that not doing so causes others signiﬁcant offense or harm in a manner that inhibits their capacity to learn, conduct research or work. In addition, it should proscribe retaliation for reporting perceived bullying.
We believe it is important to distinguish statements and actions that are inadvertently and unintentionally offensive to another individual from those that are repeated even in the face of a request for modification, as well as those that are deliberately intimidating, threatening, humiliating or undermining. Bullying should be clearly defined to prevent confusion with legitimate constructive criticism undertaken as part of expected or required professional and educational supervision.
Presumption of Innocence and Value of Academic Freedom
The presumption of innocence should be afforded to all accused persons. It is imperative in an academic milieu where strong criticism, the engagement of new and controversial ideas, and the practice of judgment are constitutive aspects of daily life and core functions of the institution. Without the presumption of innocence, the possibility of misconstruing the normal activity of supervision and critical engagement is increased; and rumors, which can be amplified by social media, have the capacity to enable false accusations to acquire traction. A presumption of innocence is implicit in the demand for fact-finding.
Related but distinct from the presumption of innocence, the protection of Academic Freedom must be extended to all students, term-limited instructors, faculty and other researchers, regardless of tenure status.
The Report of the Anti-Bullying Working Group emphasizes restorative justice as a framework for addressing abusive conduct. Restorative Justice aims to remedy social inequities and injustices in a manner that recognizes the capacity for change and avoids punitive response; it has taken many forms in different contexts, and PPC recognizes its virtue. However, restorative justice requires the full participation of all members of a community and not merely individuals who are, at one moment or another, party to a complaint, as either complainant or respondent. It is a value difficult to achieve when confidentiality of proceedings is operative, and where action is limited to individual cases. PPC therefore believes that processes of restorative justice are most appropriately pursued through broad and community-oriented conversation, institution-wide training, guidance on mentorship, and relevant, division- or field-appropriate policy, rather than through individual mediation and/or disciplinary action associated with individual transgressions. The value of restorative justice might be undermined if it is entangled with responses to problematic relationships between individuals, particularly if the address to those relationships proceeds to disciplinary action.
We recognize that not all conduct can or should be made to conform to a single standard. We value the differences in practice that are a function of disciplinary needs, research and pedagogical traditions, and social background. Moreover, evidence suggests that demands for conformity to dominant stereotypes afflict women, people of non-normative gender expression and minority instructors (whether for reasons of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age or ability) with special frequency and intensity, making their supervisory and pedagogical practices vulnerable to biased reporting. An anti-Bullying policy must have multiple built-in protections to ensure that it is not deployed to enforce stereotypes or to target vulnerable individuals. Training sessions and other proactive measures undertaken under an anti-Bullying policy should address these issues to mitigate the likelihood of biased or targeted reporting.
The Need for Differential Response: the Problem
Minor and unintentional offense is best addressed by practices of conflict resolution and mediation, in which the aim is a shared understanding and restraint of offensive speech or behavior that is not otherwise protected under the terms of academic freedom. Such mediation should not enter the professional and/or personnel records of either party, except at an aggregate level.
However, repeated and/or deliberate acts of intimidation, threat, humiliation or actions that willfully undermine people and violate established professional norms, and which are not already covered under policy concerned with ‘protected categories’ of persons, deserve fuller review and proportional disciplinary action. Cases of this sort should enter into some formal record, subject to legally mandated or established protocols of confidentiality.
As with the forms of best practice developed by the EOAA, we do not believe that persons who have been subject to serious intimidation, threat, humiliation or actions that willfully undermine them are best served by face-to-face mediation and should not be required to undergo it. Indeed, the policy of separating such people has been a principle of EOAA’s practice and informs the contractually agreed upon terms enabling transfer of graduate students and researchers from one advisor to another if abusive conduct by supervisors or managers has been identified. We urge a different process than that proposed by the Anti-Bullying Working Group, including its emphasis on face-to-face mediation in such cases.
The Need for Differential Response: Locally Responsive Mechanisms
Given the presumption of innocence and the need for differential response, a form of fact-finding will be necessary to determine whether an action covered under the policy is likely to have occurred, and of what sort. This process of fact-finding should rest with people with relevant qualifications and expertise, and with specific experience in diverse academic environments. It should be separate from any office tasked with sanctioning individuals, or enacting disciplinary measures.
Given the variation in form and nature of work across the schools, we believe that persons involved in review and fact-finding should have the means to draw on school- and division-specific expertise. This is because the norms of critical and supervisory practice vary across disciplines, and the judgment of possible offense must be informed by knowledge of those differences.
However, fact-finding and judgment should remain exterior to the instructional unit or unit in which the offense is said to have occurred, whether a department, a program, an institute or an office. This is because conflicts of interest can arise in small units, where supervisors and the respondents to complaint are likely to know each other and because chairs or other supervisory authorities in a given unit cannot be excluded a priori from complaint.
Accordingly, it should not fall to Department Chairs or members of a single unit to undertake fact finding and adjudicate complaints. Rather, these should be lodged above or outside functional units.
From Recommendations to Formal Policy
We urge that any body established to respond to the Working Group’s recommendations and to devise a policy or implement it, have representation from all divisions of the Arts and Sciences, including Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Humanities, School of the Arts, as well as the School of the Arts and SPS, given that instructional relationships and modes of supervision and evaluation, as well as size of unit, differ considerably across schools and fields. Broad representation is essential if we are to develop a policy responsive to specific pedagogical and research conditions, with appropriate mechanisms developed in light of those conditions.
We urge clarity on responsibilities for reporting. Under Columbia’s current EOAA policy, reporting is mandated for several categories of responsible individuals. However, there is emerging evidence that mandatory bystander reporting does not contribute to harm reduction with respect to issues of sexual and gender harassment; some universities are abandoning this policy. We believe that mandatory reporting for Bullying would produce unintended negative consequences, a possibility that will be increased to the extent that the definition of bullying lacks clarity.
The basis and process of lodging and responding to complaints should be clearly explained in widely disseminated communications; it should be free of threat and unambiguous. Ideally, there should be more than one avenue for lodging a complaint. Those who are subjects of complaint should be informed of the nature of the complaint against them, possible actions to be taken, and the timeline for resolution of the issue.
Record-Keeping and Evaluation
Non-identifying, aggregate data kept on complaints—both accepted and turned down, of both unintentional affront or offense and deliberate or repeated harm—should be made public annually, including kinds of complaint, actions taken, and outcomes. It should be used to determine both rates and patterns of offense and the possibility of bias in reporting.
As previously noted, the determination of guidelines for renewal, promotion and tenuring of faculty should not reside with a committee dedicated to the prevention and remediation of Bullying (as currently proposed in Section 5 of the original Report), any more than it resides with any other disciplinary entity at Columbia. The Working Group’s proposals for a revision of evaluation procedures therefore seems to exceed its remit and to intrude inappropriately into matters of academic governance.
Redundancy and Efficiency
Before a new Office of Conflict Resolution is created, the university should conduct a full audit of the codes, contracts, and offices concerned with regulating the behavior of faculty, students, and staff–e.g., Code of Academic and Professional Conduct, CUIMC Office of Professional Standards, EOAA, the Ombudsperson, Senate Faculty Affairs, Student Conduct and Community Standards, union contract grievance procedures, University Compliance, etc. Such an audit should check for the duplication of functions and resources with an eye to avoiding any possibility of double jeopardy; it should consider the budgetary and administrative implications of operating multiple offices concerned with individual behavior and community standards; and it should ensure that abusive behaviors are not permitted to continue simply because they fall between the jurisdictions or competencies of individual offices.