Content warning: This article deals with themes of sexual violence.
Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg will be stepping down as EVP and taking a temporary leave of absence from her faculty position at Columbia Law School to join the Biden-Harris administration, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email sent out just hours after President Biden’s inauguration.
Goldberg initially joined the Columbia faculty in 2006 at Columbia Law, where she led the Sexuality and Gender Law clinic and advised President Bollinger on sexual assault prevention and response. In 2015, she became the University’s first executive vice president for university life and is also the co-director of the Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality.
Goldberg’s time at Columbia has been marked by the changing landscape around federal Title IX policies.
In 2014, Goldberg proposed the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation, a $2.2 million project that has since studied the sexual behavior of Columbia undergraduates. In 2018, the report identified that nearly one in every four Columbia and Barnard students experience sexual assault during their time at the University, but that only 2 percent of students who experience sexual assault actually file a formal complaint.
After 23 students filed Title IX, Title II, and Clery Act violations against the University in April 2014, Bollinger announced the creation of EVP of Student Affairs—a role that Goldberg would be appointed to just two months later. Now known as the Office of University Life, the office’s establishment was shaped by scandals that had pulled Columbia into national conversations around how it handles issues regarding race and gender. The EVP position was established one semester after “Carry That Weight,” a performance piece created by Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, in protest of the University’s handling of her rape case and months after student calls to address racial discrimination in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of police.
In 2017, eight student protesters entered and disrupted a class led by Goldberg, carrying signs and flyers targeting Columbia’s gender-based misconduct policies.
In the fall of 2016, Goldberg defended the University’s gender-based misconduct policy that prohibited those who were undergoing the Title IX investigations process from recording their meetings with investigators or copying documents. This policy was condemned widely, but Goldberg claimed that allowing either party to record the sessions would compromise the privacy of the students involved in a “chilling effect,” even if they recorded the hearing themselves. In what became a viral essay, one former student discussed how the right to record allowed her to see that her investigators’ notes did not match up to what was said during their meetings. In response to this policy, No Red Tape protested on Low Steps; in January 2017, the University maintained that it would not punish those who did not follow this policy.
In addition to her role as EVP, Goldberg was also appointed to rules administrator in 2015, a position that decides whether or not a student accused of violating the rules will be adjudicated. Prior to Goldberg’s appointment, the role of rules administrator was supposed to come from someone from the Office of the Provost. However, without the knowledge of the student body, the University amended the language of this rule so the rules administrator would come from the Office of University Life. According to previous reporting from Spectator, members of the University Senate were not informed of this decision. Many students condemned the University’s handling of the appointment, as many felt uncomfortable with administrator’s being involved in the adjudication process of students who protest their decisions.
Goldberg was named the acting assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights for the United States Department of Education. This office oversees investigations about institutions like Columbia.
According to Bollinger’s email, Goldberg’s longtime Chief of Staff Radhika Patel and Vice President for Student Affairs Joseph Greenwell will lead the office in the interim.
At the time of publication, Columbia University has not responded to a request for comment.
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