UNC panel suspends honor charge over rape case

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:56 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s student-led honor system has agreed to suspend proceedings against a sophomore it accuses of intimidating a man she says sexually assaulted her, the school’s chancellor said Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Chancellor Holden Thorp said the honor court charges were on hold while a separate federal investigation proceeds.


School officials decided “the cases couldn’t move at the same time,” he said. “They had to be done in sequence.”

Landen Gambill, 19, hasn’t named the man she says attacked her, but has described how they know each other. Her attorney said Monday he had filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, accusing the university of retaliating against Gambill in part for her public criticisms of the way the school treats sexual violence survivors.

She was accused of creating an intimidating environment for the man she says raped her. A university hearings board earlier cleared him of sexual assault charges but found him guilty of harassing her. He faces no criminal charges.

Attorney Clay Turner also had asked Thorp to dismiss the honor system charge against Gambill, who he said wouldn’t participate in those proceedings.

“I’ve spoken with my client, who is pleased that the university has taken this step,” Turner said Tuesday. “And we think it’s a first step in the right direction.”

A school spokeswoman has said previously that university administrators don’t encourage or prevent charges from being filed in the honor court.

However, Turner said in the Monday letter that the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance, or honor code, says the chancellor is solely responsible for all matters of student discipline.

Thorp agreed that he has the authority to drop the charges without the consent of the honor court, but he’s not aware that’s ever happened.

“Given how important our tradition of a student-run honor court is, I’d be very, very hesitant to do that,” he said. “I just asked them to hold off while we work through the Title IX part of this process.”

John Gresham, the attorney for the man whom Gambill accused, said he agreed with the decision to suspend the honor court proceedings.

“I think that given the amount of controversy and Ms. Gambill’s complaint that it was probably a reasoned decision,” he said, reiterating that the university played no role in his client’s decision to file a report with the honor court.

“I believe once this matter has been investigated that the student disciplinary process will continue,” he said.

In an open letter to students, faculty and staff, Thorp said he had asked the student attorney general to suspend the honor court proceedings. “For several weeks, the university has grappled with how to best 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,” Thorp wrote.

“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 wrote. “The university takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception.

Thorp is resigning in June to become the chief academic officer of Washington University in St. Louis. He said he expected discussions about the role of the honor court to continue next year. Various task forces have looked at the system over the past couple of years, he said.

Having the student-run system is both unusual and a cherished tradition at UNC-CH, he said. “But I think that when the idea of it was formulated, I’m not sure people thought of the kind of high-profile matters that have come to it as happened in this case and with a few others over the last few years,” he said.

Gambill’s complaint marks the third one filed this year against the university concerning sexual assault. Gambill is also one of five women who in January filed a Title IX complaint with the office of civil rights, saying UNC-CH mishandles sexual abuse cases.

And investigators are due on campus next month to investigate whether the school accurately reports campus crimes as required by federal law under the Clery Act, which requires campuses participating in federal financial aid programs to collect and disclose crime statistics and security information.

“In the long run, this is going to be a good thing,” Thorp said of the investigations. “ ... I think we will learn from it and get better. ... This particular issue is playing out around the country and it’s one that needs to get worked on.”

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