Chancellor Holden Thorp exercised a seldom-used power of his office Tuesday when he asked the student-led Honor Court to suspend proceedings between sophomore Landen Gambill and her ex-boyfriend — bypassing a long-standing tradition of student self-governance.
His decision — which he said was driven by requirements set forth by the federal government — emerged just one day after Gambill’s lawyer announced she filed a third complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging UNC has retaliated against her for speaking out about its handling of sexual assault.
“Addressing the threat of retaliation is something that clearly falls under the obligations that are provided by the guidance of the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter,” Thorp said in an interview Tuesday, referring to a federal mandate issued in 2011. “We are putting our highest focus on that.”
“We want to resolve these claims before we move any other pieces of this forward,” he said.
Thorp said the hearing would be suspended until a review could be conducted to evaluate Gambill’s repeated claims of retaliation.
He said the decision to suspend the hearing had been considered for weeks and was not a direct result of a Monday letter sent by Gambill’s attorney, Henry Clay Turner, which demanded Thorp drop the charges Turner called “inappropriate, unconstitutional and utterly without merit.”
Thorp’s decision presents an unusual three-sided conflict the University faces in this case: to comply with federal mandates when allegations of retaliation are made against the University, while attempting to preserve the autonomy of the student-led honor system and the rights of those who bring complaints to the Honor Court.
The “Dear Colleague” letter, which Thorp said requires UNC to respond to Gambill’s retaliation claim, is a 19-page mandate released by the Department of Education in April 2011, calling for all federally funded campuses to update their sexual assault policies.
The letter also requires all universities to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. According to the letter, Title IX prohibits retaliation and requires that all school officials not only prevent retaliation, but also take strong responsive action if retaliation occurs.