UNC Fraud Report To Be Released Wednesday

OCR Will Investigate UNC Over Sexual Assault Cases

By WCHL News Posted March 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm
CHAPEL HILL – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has decided to go ahead with an investigation of UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases on campus.

That investigation is in response to a complaint filed with the office by four current and former UNC students and one former assistant dean, Melinda Manning.

Among other things, the 30-page complaint alleges that sexual assault cases were handled by an untrained panel of staff, students and administrators, who subjected accusers to inappropriate and insensitive questioning. It also charges that Manning was personally discriminated against for having children—and that in 2010, UNC officials intentionally underreported the number of sexual assault cases on campus, in violation of the federal Clery Act.

General Counsel Leslie Strohm vehemently refuted that last charge before the Board of Trustees in January. But UNC officials have not commented on the complaint beyond that—except to say that many of the cases in question occurred when the University was in the midst of implementing several federally-mandated changes in procedure.

Numerous members of the Board of Trustees expressed strong support for the officials singled out by name in the complaint, including Strohm, Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp. But UNC has also taken at least one step in direct response to the complaint—hiring Gina Smith as a consultant. Smith is a former prosecutor who specializes in high-profile sexual abuse cases; she also worked with Amherst College after a similar controversy last year.

The OCR’s decision to investigate does not necessarily imply any wrongdoing on UNC’s part, but investigations of this nature are not common: in January, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the Office receives about 30 such complaints a year and investigates about 10 percent of them.

The University’s handling of sexual assault cases has been at the forefront of local debate all year—revolving primarily around the case of sophomore Landen Gambill, one of the four students who filed the official complaint. Gambill accused her ex-boyfriend, a fellow student, of sexual assault in the spring of 2012; a five-member University Hearings Board found him guilty of verbal harassment, acquitting him of the sexual-assault charge.

But Gambill says the whole matter was mishandled, with board members blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator. Indeed Gambill is now herself the accused—as her ex has charged her with “disruptive and intimidating behavior” in UNC’s student-run Honor Court. (While Gambill’s case was part of the official complaint, this most recent twist occurred after the complaint was filed.)

UNC released this statement in response to the news:

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has notified the University that it will investigate a discrimination complaint filed in January with its District of Columbia office. The complainants have made allegations about the University’s response to sexual assault and sexual violence cases. The letter noted that opening the allegation for investigation “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

During the investigation, “OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate.”

The University will respond appropriately to the OCR’s request for information and cooperate fully with the investigation.

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