UNC to delay Honor Court case against outspoken student
Posted March 26, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said Tuesday that it is suspending an Honor Court case against a student who accuses the school of retaliating against her for filing a federal complaint about the handling of sex assault cases on campus.
Sophomore Landen Gambill is accused of violating UNC's honor code by creating an intimidating environment for the man who she says raped her, although she hasn't named him publicly. A campus board earlier cleared him of the sexual assault charge and but found him guilty of harassing her. He faces no criminal charges.
Gambill is one of five women who asked the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights to look into what they called an atmosphere of sexual violence at the school. She maintains that the honor code violation was retribution by the university for filing the complaint and speaking publicly about her case.
On Monday, her attorney said she had filed a second complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the university was trying to intimidate her. Attorney Clay Turner asked Chancellor Holden Thorp to dismiss the Honor Court case against Gambill.
Thorp said Tuesday that he asked the case to be suspended until an outside review of the retaliation claim could be investigated.
"For several weeks, the university has grappled with how best to respond to a public claim of retaliation against the university while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of our Honor Court proceedings and the privacy of the individuals involved,” Thorp wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.
"Recognizing the potential conflicts that may exist by allowing both processes to continue, we have asked the Student Attorney General to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations of retaliation," he said. "The university takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception.”
The initial complaint filed by Gambill and others accuses UNC-Chapel Hill of under-reporting sexual assault cases for 2010 in an annual report to the federal government on campus crime. It also alleged that campus officials allowed a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.
Thorp reiterated in his letter Tuesday that UNC-Chapel Hill has taken steps to improve its handling of sex assault cases and will keep trying to get better. Part of that process involves respecting people's right to express their opinions, he said.
"Throughout this process, the university has continued a long tradition of encouraging students to exercise their right to speak out. That’s how most important social change occurs," he said. "The university will continue to encourage frank and candid dialogue among our community members and to create a safe space for that conversation."