Transcript - Governor Cuomo Announces First-Ever Statewide, Uniform Policy to Combat Sexual Assault on New York College Campuses


Transcript of Governor Cuomo's remarks:

Thank you. First, let me begin by thanking Chairman McCall, who’s done a truly extraordinary job for SUNY, which is no surprise since he’s been an extraordinary public servant throughout all life in a number of capacities, and he has a distinguished career that he’s brought to this great institution, and he’s made it even better. I’d like to publicly thank him for his service, as well as thanking each and every one of you who have agreed to serve as trustees. I know with all the demands that you have on you from a professional and personal point of view, to serve on yet another board, another institution, takes even more of your time. So I want to thank you for your service.

I also want to note that your service is truly extraordinary. You look at the progress that SUNY has made over the past few years, and it is a dramatic and dynamically different institution than it was just a few years ago. We talk about bureaucracy and how hard it is to move a bureaucracy. You get to an institution the size of SUNY, you’re talking about a seriously large bureaucracy, and it has moved with lightning speed and made all sorts of reforms, and you should be incredibly proud. It started as one of the great assets for the state, and one of the real visions for the state when it was constructed in the first place. Somewhere along the way SUNY didn’t get the time and attention that it deserved, and over the past few years we’ve been trying to correct that, and we have.

And we’ve also been transforming the role of SUNY. SUNY is now not just an academic institution, it’s also an economic institution. And that’s what so many of the schools across the nation are doing. They’re marrying academia and the commercial expression of that academic product, and SUNY is doing that as quickly and as well as anyone. Dr. Tripathi and Dr. Stanley, you know they know their SUNY institution is not just looked to for academics, but also for leadership in regional economic development, and it really is an exciting period of transformation.

The SUNY 2020 program has been going really great. The competitions that we now have, where the SUNY schools have to compete for the awards, first was a little unsettling, you know competition is always unsettling. I’d rather just win and have it handed to me, but I think the competition has now been accepted by the institution overall, and it’s a positive, so kudos to all of you.

One of the issues that we’ve been working on as a state, which is a nationwide issue, but we’ve been focusing on, is the issue of women’s rights, women’s equality, women’s inequality, depending on your point of view. I proposed, just over a year ago, a women’s equality act that the legislature’s considering, and we’re going back and forth, that points out a number of areas of injustices and inequalities vis-à-vis women, and possible solutions for it. And it’s a hot topic of debate last year and I suspect it will be a hot topic of debate going forward this year at least I hope so.

Overlaid on top of that is that there has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and is inarguable. It is no longer past the point where we are talking about one or two incidents, an anecdotal reaction. It is an epidemic. And it is spreading. And it is pervasive. It's plaguing our college campuses, it's astonishing, and it's troubling.

One out of four college women will be a victim of sexual assault. It is breathtaking. Fewer than five percent of the rapes of college women are reported to law enforcement. Which means the perpetrator, the rapist, can go on to rape again. 80-90 percent of the time the woman knew the assailant.

States are grappling with this with more or less success. The federal government has been grappling with this with more or less success. We should be proud our senator, Senator Gillibrand, has done great work in this area and has proposals that are being discussed in Washington. And while the states are grappling with it, and while the federal government is discussing it, I'm urging that New York actually acts and New York once again points the way on a very difficult but very important issue.

We have been working on a policy with the SUNY officials and the advocacy community and the victims' rights community and we've been working on it for a number of months and that is before you today as a resolution.

Several of the high points: number one, a uniform definition of consent. Right now, different institutions have their own definition of consent. I understand the individuality of the 64 institutions in SUNY. But some things should be uniform and a women's consent in Oswego should be a women's consent in Buffalo, should be a women's' consent in Albany. And a woman’s consent in Oswego should be a woman’s consent in Buffalo and should be a woman’s consent in Albany. So this establishes a uniform definition of consent.

It establishes rights where the woman, if she believes she was a victim of a sexual assault, can deal with the campus police and notify the campus police or the local police or the State police. But it is the woman’s choice and the woman’s option.

Fewer than five percent of the cases were reported. Why? Because the incentive for the school is to treat it as an internal matter. Why? Because the school doesn’t want the exposure, the school doesn’t want the publicity, it’s not a positive in any situation. And I believe that the incentives actually can be a disservice to the victim, because the incentive for the institution is at odds with what might be in the best interest for the victim. And again, I understand the tendency and I understand the motivation to handle it as an internal matter. But rape is a crime. This is not subject to a college campus determination or a college campus policy. It is a crime. And a campus cannot define what is a crime as something less than a crime, and can’t be imposing and adjudicating what should be adjudicated as a crime.

Now, it should be the victim’s choice. If the victim says I want to deal with it as a campus matter, deal with the campus police, fine. But the victim should know its campus police or local police or the State police.

Third, the policy calls for amnesty for reporting sexual crimes if you were a victim or a bystander. You won’t be penalized for violating campus drug or alcohol rules. What happens is very often a potential witness sees something, but doesn’t want to report it because she or he may have been in a situation that could expose them to some different liability – alcohol was involved or drugs were involved and the person doesn’t want to get into trouble with the campus policy and therefore they don’t report it. So there would be amnesty.

A statewide, uniform training of SUNY police so everyone has the same training when it comes to this situation.

A notification of what we call a victim’s bill of rights by SUNY in a uniform way, as part of the orientation for students and at the time that any person makes the complaint. So at the time of orientation, and also at the time of the incident itself. And a person gets notified of their rights in a very simple and clear way, orally, and in writing.

This is the essence of the policy that has been, again, collectively developed and I want to thank the professionals at SUNY who have worked very hard, as well as all of the advocacy groups that we have been talking to. Also, I have the pleasure today of naming Linda Fairstein, who is one of the experts, certainly nationally – potentially internationally – in terms of victims’ rights and violence against women. She has been working on this issue and is really one of the first people in the country who spotted the issue and gave it the attention and the light that it deserves. You could not have a better advisor on this issue and I’ve asked Ms. Fairstein if she would help SUNY implement this policy.

Secondarily, while SUNY is implementing the policy, learn what is right, what is wrong with the policy, or should there be any tweaks to the policy, because my goal would be to make this a law eventually and to use this implementation at SUNY as a way to be testing the policy to see if there should be any refinements.

I don’t need to suggest, and it would not be accurate for anyone to suggest, that this is a SUNY problem. It is not. This is a societal problem. This is Harvard and Yale and Princeton, Albany and Buffalo and Oswego. It is not SUNY’s problem by origination. I would suggest it should be SUNY’s problem to solve and SUNY’s place to lead. And I believe there is an advantage for SUNY to lead here. If SUNY is the institution that leads on this policy and is providing a safer environment for its students, I think that’s an advantage for SUNY. And a competitive advantage for SUNY.

This is not the first time we’ve had a situation like this. Many years ago, before this gray hair, I was the Attorney General of the State of New York. At that time we came across a problem with student lending, which had been a nationwide situation. Banks, lending companies, had worked out preferential relationships with college campuses where they would basically give a gift to a college campus and the college campus would make them their preferred lender. The bank would often charge a higher interest rate to the student. We considered that a conflict of interest, we went to SUNY, we talked about it with SUNY, SUNY changed their policy and adopted a more reformed policy. SUNY did it. Other schools followed SUNY. We passed a state law based on what SUNY did. That state law then basically became the law of the land.

Why? Because it was SUNY and because it was New York. SUNY has a formidable size and population. If it works for SUNY, it will work in other institutions. In many ways, what makes New York special, or one of the things that makes New York special, is that this is the progressive capital. Historically, part of New York's legacy is we take these complicated issues and we sort them out and we figure them out first and we set a precedent. Other states then follow the precedent that we set in New York. I think this is one of those situations where New York can once again take what is a difficult, uncomfortable topic—not one that anyone wants to talk about—but SUNY can lead and can reform, and that's part of what this is all about.

This is a personal situation for me, I have three young ladies, I have two in college now and the third is going to go to college next year, hopefully. The Cuomo family, my father and mother – fourteen grandchildren, thirteen girls out of fourteen grandchildren. God has been good to us when it comes to relationships with females. But it's personal for me and it's personal for all of us. These numbers are really staggering and really disturbing. Therein lies the opportunity for SUNY. I want to thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to come before you. I want to thank the Chairman. I know it's unique but I think this situation deserves it and mandated it and I thank you for the courtesy. With that, I yield back to the Chairman.