Update on Anti-Bullying Initiative
Dear fellow members of the Columbia University community,
In September 2021, I convened a Working Group to discuss bullying and other abusive behavior and make recommendations on how we as an institution should address this problem. The goal, as I said then, was to “provide an environment for learning, research, living, and working that is free from discrimination and harassment and that does not tolerate abusive or intimidating behavior.”
When I received the Working Group’s report last spring, I described its recommendations as thoughtful and well-reasoned and said I looked forward to discussion of them across the campus. We have had much dialogue and input in the months that followed – at the University Senate, in meetings of various faculties, including the Arts and Sciences, where the Policy and Planning Committee (PPC) fostered particularly robust discussion, and in many other venues. That discussion will continue. But taking account of what we have heard from the Senate and feedback from several constituencies from across our campuses including the PPC, I am pleased to announce the first major steps to implement recommendations of the Working Group via our Progress Report on the Anti-Bullying Initiative that addresses the University’s efforts.
Key steps described in the Progress Report include:
- Adopt the Working Group’s proposed definition of bullying (see below)
- Establish a standing, University-wide Provost’s Advisory Committee on Bullying
- Establish an interim, University-wide Referral Committee to receive and refer complaints
- Identify school- and unit-based points of contact to receive and help resolve complaints and work on issues of culture and climate
- Appoint coordinators in the Provost’s Office who can address problematic behavior as needed
- Continue to promote safe and inclusive research environments, in accordance with funding agency expectations
- Assess current resources, best practices, and opportunities for enhancing University programs
The definition of bullying that the University is adopting, based on the Working Group’s proposal, for our various implementation efforts is as follows:
Abusive conduct or bullying is a pattern of unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, intimidating, disrespectful, degrading, or humiliating. For purposes of this policy, the terms “abusive conduct” and “bullying” are synonymous. Bullying may take many forms including physical, oral, or written acts or behaviors. Calls, texts, emails, and social media postings can also constitute bullying, even if they occur away from University premises or outside of work hours. In determining whether unwelcome conduct amounts to prohibited bullying, it is essential to consider the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency, nature, and severity of the conduct, the relationship between the parties, and the context in which the conduct occurred.
I encourage everyone to read the Progress Report, which describes these actions in detail and reviews the careful thinking that has informed the decisions on these crucial issues.
These actions are just the first steps, and they are supplemented by other activities, including new programming at the Center for Teaching and Learning to help faculty advance their mentorship practices. Our goal is to create an environment in which all can thrive. As the Working Group said, that necessarily means an environment that does not tolerate abusive or intimidating behavior, that respects the rights and interests of all members of our community, and that upholds our foundational principles of academic freedom and free expression. If we are to achieve that goal, much work remains ahead, for all of us.
Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering