UNC violated Honor Court’s independence
TO THE EDITOR:
Tuesday’s news that the University will step in to halt Honor Court proceedings against sophomore Landen Gambill shows an alarming lapse in judgment by administration.
It is certainly not clear that these proceedings should have gotten so far, or that the Honor Court should ever agree to hear what is, de facto, a defamation case.
The issues raised include finding the thin line between First Amendment-protected speech and actionable defamation, and even federal and state courts have struggled to find the balance; it is certainly no place for a student-run Honor Court.
On the other hand, it would not be improper for the court to determine in this case or in general that such issues should be raised when the hearings start in earnest, in order to give both sides a proper say in the matter; which is, after all, the whole point of the proceedings. On that account the Honor Court may not have erred.
All of this, however, is moot; for better or for worse, the Honor Court and the student attorney general did decide to go ahead with the case, at least to the point of a hearing.
For the administration to step into the issue raises at least these two serious issues:
First, by stepping in, the administration violates the independence of the Honor Court.
Not only is this improper in its own right — the very name “court” demands a complete independence from undue outside influence — but it also opens the University to the very charge it is defending itself against — that the Honor Court acts as an arm of the administration.
The argument that could be raised against the University is obvious: If the administration can step in to halt Honor Court proceedings, perhaps it stepped in to initiate them as well.
Violating the independence of the Honor Court at this time is a poor choice by the administration by any measure.
The second issue faced by the University may prove more challenging in the long run: By stepping in now, the administration sends the message that someone charged by the honor system can halt the proceedings through outside action, be it a complaint against the University or perhaps political pressure.
By violating the Honor Court’s independence from the University, the administration has opened the honor system proceedings to influence from outside the University.
We’ve already seen how an Office for Civil Rights “Dear Colleague” letter has changed honor system proceedings (whether for good or ill is not at issue); might the office now see fit to alter the honor system further?
It is unlikely that they wield the power to shut down the honor system, but might we soon see more administration and fewer students running it?
Where does this lead? There are improvements to be made, but they must be made from within; political pressure from outside agents is like a sledgehammer being used to perform the delicate surgery that is required here.
At this point I would like to offer suggestions on how the administration might fix this misstep; however, I have none to offer.
Though the chancellor’s email thanks us “for being part of the positive changes” being made, in truth, we’re just along for the ride.
I sure hope he knows where he’s taking us.
David Adler ’15