Columbia Gets Citizenship Wrong

Aug 31, 2015 |  Ashley Thorne

Font Size  


Columbia Gets Citizenship Wrong

Aug 31, 2015 | 

Ashley Thorne

Heather Mac Donald has a trenchant article in Commentary on Columbia University's new mandatory sexual assault prevention program called the "Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative." The "Community Citizenship" part of the title is mysterious but surely it corresponds to a certain type of citizenship Columbia wants its community to learn. One of the program's aims is to train students for "bystander intervention," when a student who is too drunk to consent to sex is in danger of being taken advantage of. So presumably being a good citizen at Columbia means intervening in such gray areas, where "bystander" interference is always unlikely. Mac Donald says that instead, "university administrations should perform an 'intervention' on the entire booze-fueled hook-up scene." 

Freedom of conscience and freedom to focus on academic work aren't factors in this version of citizenship. A Ph.D. candidate who chose to focus on his research rather than prioritze the program's requirements is now facing academic discipline. He told Mac Donald, “People like me might be losing the right simply to be silent, to be left alone. [...] For the first time I, along with anyone else remotely willing to dissent, am not even being allowed to stay quiet and keep my opinions to myself. The initiative implies that agreement with the ideology—indeed, with a university-mandated code of sexual ethics—is actually required for attendance at this institution.”

Citizenship has always been conditioned on virtue, but the version of civic virtue Columbia is forcing on students comes in the form of last-resort intervention rather than a substantial confrontation of a deeply troubled culture of casual sex harmful for women. The university coerces students to waste time that could have been productively spent in relevant academic work, and it requires students to agree with a pre-set ideological code in order to graduate. On the meaning of citizenship, Columbia has misfired.

Image: Alma Mater by Daniel Chester French / Creative Commons

Larry Creech

| September 03, 2015 - 6:11 PM

This is an interesting twist on the position held by most colleges. The University of Virginia embarrassed itself by trying to defend against rape allegations made in Rolling Stone magazine by describing how they “handle the report of a rape.” That’s the fundamental problem; they shouldn’t be “handling the report of a rape.” They should be reporting the rape to law enforcement. If there are any ethics in academic’s issues, that’s their purview, but not the legality of the crime. At Columbia the administration is setting students up to take the fall for any assaults on campus by stepping back and demanding under academic penalty students take steps that could make them legally culpable in some way. Students at Columbia should hire a lawyer…you can bet there are plenty willing to handle pro bono…and ferret out the idiotic administrative wonk/s forcing a liability on student’s who…well, student’s who are innocent of doing anything!  MacDonald’s observation that “ administrations should perform an ‘intervention’ on the entire booze-fueled hook-up scene” is the observation Columbia administration should be taking rather than abdicating their responsibility to students. This is more of the rampant degradation of colleges by ‘green eye shade bean counters’ who are more interested in growing the ‘endowment’ and ‘the brand’ instead of growing scholarship. Find out the individuals, file suit against them as individuals, and see if they still think their ill conceived plan of abdication of responsibility is the right thing to do.


| September 22, 2015 - 8:58 PM

A Columbia degree must be discounted accordingly.