Thorp: UNC Dropping Honor Court Charge Against Student

The University will drop an Honor Court charge against a student who claimed UNC was retaliating against her for her participation in a federal complaint over how UNC handles sexual assault cases.

In early 2012, then-freshman Landen Gambill said she had been raped by an ex-boyfriend, who was found not guilty by a campus hearings board sitting in for the Honor Court that spring. (He was found guilty of a lesser charge of verbal harassment.) Late in 2012, the ex-boyfriend went to the court and said Gambill had been harassing him; the court charged Gambill.

This occurred after Gambill, several other students and one alumna had filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, saying the University was mishandling sexual assault cases and bringing an OCR investigation upon UNC. Gambill said the harassment charge constituted retaliation by the University for the federal complaint; UNC administrators responded that the matter was in the Honor Court’s hands, not theirs, and therefore they could not be involved in retaliating.

In a letter to the campus community released Thursday, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said that the University had commissioned an independent outside review of the retaliation charge and that a nationally recognized expert in handling sexual harassment grievances, a human resource management professor at Rutgers University, had found no evidence that the University retaliated against Gambill.

In the process, the propriety of the student-run court to handle such cases has come into question. At the time the rape case was heard, the Honor Court had been removed from involvement in sexual assault cases.

Thorp wrote: “This has been a difficult situation for the students involved, and it has led me to carefully reexamine two issues: (1) how we can continue to protect our students’ right to free speech, and (2) the Honor Code provision dealing with disruptive or intimidating behavior that was the basis of the original charge.

“This review brought into sharp focus concerns about this particular Honor Code provision. As a result, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp [’92 (JD)] consulted with campus colleagues … about this issue. Vice Chancellor Crisp recommended that no student should be charged with violating this section of the Honor Code until the Committee on Student Conduct can adequately evaluate the provision.

“I agree with Vice Chancellor Crisp, and this change will take effect immediately. Honor System charges involving this provision of the Honor Code, including the case in question, will be dismissed.”

Thorp added that the decision “is not a challenge to the important role of students in our Honor System, but is intended to protect the free speech rights of our students.”

Gambill told The News & Observer of Raleigh that she had stopped going to class in March due to the stress of the case and was looking forward to being able to return to school.

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