Columbia University has been the focus of heated arguments over the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints.

In recent days, the names of alleged “rapists” have been scrawled on bathroom walls and in flyers, as reported at The Columbia Spectator, The NY Daily News, and The Columbia Lion, and Jezebel, which provided this redacted image:

Also this week, a former Columbia student went public with her story of an alleged rape:

Against this backdrop of claims that sexual assaults are not addressed adequately by administrators, there has been substantial pushback at many campuses that the definitions of sexual assault and consent used on campuses are overly broad and that males are not given sufficient due process protection:

Earlier today in federal court in New York a Complaint was filed by a former Columbia student alleging that he was unfairly found to have committed a sexual assault based upon allegedly flimsy and inconsistent evidence, without due process protections. The Complaint is embedded at the bottom of this post.

The heart of the Complaint is that the sex was consensual, as evidenced by the lack of contemporaneous complaint and a delay of 5 months in complaining:

2. John Doe and Jane Doe were friends within the same social circle at Columbia University. It was at Jane Doe’s suggestion that they engaged in one night of consensual sexual activity during finals week in the Spring of 2013 (“Evening of May 12”) inside Jane Doe’s suite bathroom. It was Jane Doe who let Plaintiff John Doe in the bathroom in order to obtain a condom from her dormitory room, then returning to the suite bathroom to undress herself in front of John Doe. After the evening ended, Jane Doe and John Doe left each other’s company on good terms.

3. Several weeks into the Fall 2013 semester and nearly five (5) months after the one night of sexual activity, Jane Doe decided to report the Evening of
May 12 as “non-consensual” sexual activity. No contemporaneous report was ever made nor was any police report was ever filed by Jane Doe in connection with her sexual activity with Plaintiff John Doe; no visit to a medical care facility was ever made by Jane Doe in connection with such sexual activity either; and indeed, no allegation of improper sexual behavior was made by Jane Doe for nearly five (5) months after the one night of sexual activity with John Doe. Notwithstanding the foregoing, and further notwithstanding a paucity of direct evidence, including an unforgiveable lack of administrative continuity and simple, practical good sense during the investigatory process, Defendant Columbia found John Doe guilty of sexual misconduct in having non-consensual sex with Jane Doe and has issued Plaintiff John Doe an order of suspension from Columbia University until Fall 2015.

The Complaint goes on to detail the lack of due process or appropriate investigation, and the allegedly one-sided nature of the proceeding. The Complaint alleges that campus political pressure based on allegations of a lack of prosecution contributed to the rush to judgment:

6. In fact, it is common knowledge that, at the time of John Doe’s disciplinary hearing and sanction, Columbia University was undergoing negative public scrutiny and backlash by student political organizations for Columbia University’s lack of vigilance against male students (especially male student athletes) accused of sexual assault, and the perceived failure of Columbia University to mete out appropriately high sanctions.

The Complaint provides great detail on the night in question and the disciplinary process. The amount of damages sought are not specified, which is not unusual.

Andrew T. Miltenberg, attorney for plaintiff “John Doe,” told me that the case was not related to the publicly reported alleged sexual assaults that are in the news, and provided this statement:

As you are aware, Columbia University is undergoing negative public scrutiny and backlash by student political organizations due to Columbia University’s alleged lack of vigilance against male students (especially male student athletes) accused of sexual assault, and the perceived failure of Columbia University to mete out appropriately high sanctions.

It was set against this stage that Columbia University sought to make an “example” out of my client as a “student athlete” accused of sexual assault and meted out a disproportionately severe sanction of a two-year suspension from the school, notwithstanding the lack of any evidence that the sexual activity between my client and another student was non-consensual.

Particularly of note is the fact that even the complainant believed the sanction to be too severe and personally appealed the decision. Columbia University refused to change its ruling. We allege that Columbia’s guidelines and regulations, in fact, the entirety of the process by which sexual assault allegations are investigated and resolved at Columbia, is deeply flawed and disproportionately affects the male student population. Our client found himself at the mercy of a system in which there is, essentially, a presumed guilt; a system sorely lacking in the procedural safeguards and due process to adequately prepare for what amounts to a trial, which will have an indelible impact on his future.

We are quite adamant that college disciplinary panels are absolutely not the place to adjudicate sexual assault matters; until such time as that is changed, it is frighteningly clear that the “preponderance of evidence” is an abomination, especially within the context of Columbia’s uneven, flawed process, which lacks the investigatory expertise, quasi-judicial experience and knowledge to be sitting in judgment on matters that have such severe ramifications for both the alleged victim and alleged assailant.

Columbia responded to a request for comment by stating: “We do not comment on litigation.”

Doe v. Columbia Univ – Complaint Re Due Process

(Featured Image – Columbia University Commencement 2014 via Facebook)


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