Fourth Director in Three Years Leaves Columbia’s Sexual Misconduct Office

October 22, 2003

By Jacon Gersham at The New York Sun

The woman in charge of Columbia University’s sexual misconduct office, which has lost much of its power since it came under heavy fire from civil liberties activists three years ago, has announced her resignation. Misumbo Byrd, 30, who became the fourth director of the office to step down in less than three years, had repeatedly complained of a lack of support from the university. Critics of Columbia’s sexual misconduct polices welcomed her resignation, seeing it as another sign Columbia was distancing itself from the office the school once hailed as a victory for victims of sexual violence. ‘It would be great if anyone involved carrying out such policies picked up their things and left,’ said Thor Halvorssen, who runs the Philadelphiabased Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which opposed the sexual misconduct office and its policies. Ms. Byrd’s office has only prosecuted one sexual misconduct case in the past year, a number she says would be bigger if school officials put more weight behind its sexual misconduct policies. She told The New York Sun yesterday she was not leaving Columbia as a ‘disgruntled employee,’ but refused to comment on her reasons for resigning. Last month, though, addressing the university senate, Columbia’s policymaking body, Ms. Byrd called on members to ‘rescue the office you created from a slow and steady death’.The office has been purposefully isolated, mean-spiritedly marginalized, and almost disappeared.’ She also complained about the lack of mandatory sexual misconduct trainings for students and about not being allowed to launch a ‘preventive poster campaign,’ the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper, reported. ‘It is clear she wanted to do more, but I don’t know the way in which she was prevented from doing it,’ said Paul Duby, a professor at Columbia who chairs the university senate’s executive committee. He said he was unaware of her disappointment until she addressed the senate last month. In February 2000, Columbia approved a whole new set of sexual misconduct policies, bowing to pressure from students who wanted more streamlined and victim-friendly disciplinary procedures.At the same time, it created the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education to oversee those policies. Led by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, civil liberties activists sharply attacked the new policies for failing to give accused students due process. They complained, among other things, that the policies denied the accused the right to confront the accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, to have a lawyer, and to preserve testimony. The policies drew condemnation from a number of press outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, from thousands of alumni, and even New York University, turning into a public relations nightmare for Columbia. ‘The debacle was a stain on Columbia,’ Mr. Halvorssen said. By April 2001,the first director of the office had resigned. Later in the year, Columbia revised its policies, granting the accused more rights and placing more of the burden of proof on the accuser. Mr. Duby said a task force would begin to review the sexual misconduct policy by the end of the year.

Download file "Fourth Director in Three Years Leaves Columbia's Sexual Misconduct Office"

Schools: Columbia University Cases: Columbia University: Violation of Due Process Rights in Sexual Misconduct Policy