At the Columbia University Senate Plenary meeting this past November, members of the Senate discussed a proposal to disregard anonymous Title IX-related comments on course evaluations. Under this proposal from the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC), anonymous reports of sexual harassment, racism, and other forms of violence and discrimination would not be investigated if found in Courseworks evaluations. The University has since released a statement about its commitment to fulfilling its requirements under Title IX. As an anti-sexual violence organization on Columbia’s campus, No Red Tape would like to affirm our belief that all reports of harassment or discrimination in the classroom must be investigated and taken seriously.
At the Plenary meeting, the FAC proposed that Title IX complaints should not be anonymous
and should instead be linked to students’ UNIs. However, given the imbalance of power between professors and students, anonymous reports are often the only way students feel safe coming forward about mistreatment they have experienced in the classroom. It is imperative that students have an anonymous channel through which to voice concerns about their classroom environments.
Ignoring these reports would only perpetuate the silencing of sexual violence survivors and other marginalized students on this campus. In the plenary meeting and in an earlier letter, Senate members were preoccupied with the impact that a Title IX investigation could have on a professor’s career. This is an understandable concern, and we do not believe that professors should be sanctioned without complete and thorough investigations. However, little mention was made of the lasting effects that gender-based misconduct and other forms of violence can have on a student’s academic life and wellbeing. If an investigation uncovers wrongdoing on the part of a professor, we hope that such behavior would be seen as an egregious violation of our shared community ideals. Professors’ careers and reputations should never be prioritized at the expense of student safety.
While we agree that classrooms should be forums for the open exchange of ideas, that does not mean that they are beyond the reach of Title IX. Advocating for professors to be accountable for their actions does not encroach on academic freedom. In fact, it enables us to have academic spaces where the contributions of all members of our community are respected and valued. If harassment and discrimination are allowed in the classroom, it becomes impossible to have the intellectually vigorous academic spaces for which FAC members have passionately advocated.
In the interests of student safety and academic freedom, anonymous reports must be investigated by the university. We will not have productive academic spaces unless both professors and students are held accountable for their behavior. We will not have a campus free of violence until every student can walk into classrooms, office hours, and lecture halls without fear of experiencing discrimination or assault.
April 2015 Faculty Affairs Committee Statement on Anonymous Comments in Course Evaluations