Multiple UNC Honor System members, including the Graduate and Professional Court’s chairperson and attorney general, will testify at a public hearing Tuesday as graduate student activist Maya Little appeals sanctions brought against her last year.
Months after Little poured a mixture of her own blood and red paint on Silent Sam in April 2018, the Graduate and Professional Honor Court sanctioned her with 18 hours of community service and a warning letter.
Little’s appeal argues that the initial judgement constituted a violation of her basic rights, insufficiency of evidence and severity of sanctions.
Six individuals connected to Little's original hearing were called to testify Tuesday, according to an email sent by Aisha Pridgen, director of the Office of Student Conduct to law student Gina Balamucki, Little's defense counsel for the appeal process.
However, most of those individuals do not plan to testify at the hearing in person, something both Little and Balamucki expressed disagreement with in separate emails to Pridgen on Saturday.
‘Behind closed doors’
Little's initial judgement faced heavy criticism due to law student Frank Pray remaining on the panel that voted to sanction Little.
Pray’s history of publicly supporting the Confederate monument, including an old social media comment where he called one of Little’s key witnesses and others opposed to the statue “petulant children,” was revealed mid-trial. He was still allowed to take part in a 3-2 majority vote that favored sanctioning Little.
“If this is happening in a public Honor Court trial, which they’d had six months to prepare, I can’t imagine what’s happening behind closed doors to students,” Little told the DTH.
Balamucki directly emailed six individuals on Jan. 27 stating she would be calling on them as witnesses at Little’s trial:
- Frank Pray
- Amelia Ahern, presiding officer of the panel during Little's initial hearing
- Kisha Patel, Graduate and Professional School Honor Court chairperson
- Courtney Bain, Graduate and Professional School attorney general
- Clare Kurdys, Little’s former student defense
- Phillip Pullen, the investigative counsel that tried Little
Pullen did not respond to a request for comment, and the other five individuals declined to answer questions from The Daily Tar Heel.
Balamucki justified her ability to call on witnesses as a right guaranteed to any student defense by UNC’s Instrument of Student Judicial Governance.The Instrument also states that “failure of a student to respond to such a Notice to Appear will subject the student to action” unless the absence is justified in writing to the student attorney general.
On Jan. 29, Kurdys met with Balamucki. She told Balamucki that the graduate students being compelled to testify publicly would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to a recording of the conversation Balamucki provided to the DTH.
Two days later, Balamucki had received no further response from any of the six individuals.
In an email, Pridgen asked Balamucki for a document justifying why each witness’ appearance would provide relevant information. Balamucki sent a document the next morning, but she didn’t realize that Bain, as the student attorney general, would be the one to assess the document.
“I do not understand how your office could think that (Bain) was the appropriate person to decide whether or not she herself should be compelled to testify,” Balamucki said in a follow-up email to Pridgen.
On Feb. 1 Pridgen responded, stating in an email that Bain had recused herself and that Aaron Bachenheimer, chairperson of Little’s appeal hearing, would review the requests.
Balamucki met with Pridgen later that day. During the meeting recorded by Balamucki, Pridgen said that Patel and Bain would voluntarily testify. Pridgen also said she was unclear on Kurdys’ argument regarding a FERPA violation, and that those testifying are not required to answer obligated questions at the hearing.
On Feb. 4, Pridgen emailed Balamucki stating that Bachenheimer had determined that the testimony of Pray, Ahern and Kurdys could be justifiably compelled.
According to a Feb. 8 email, the following is how Little's witnesses are planning to testify. The hearing is set to take place between 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Frank Pray is set to testify by phone.
- Amelia Ahern has requested to send a statement in lieu of testifying due to a conflict during the hearing.
- Kisha Patel is set to testify by phone.
- Courtney Bain is set to testify in person.
- Clare Kurdys is set to testify by phone.
- Phillip Pullen is set to testify in person.
Balamucki emailed Pridgen back stating that her and Little did not agree to Pray phoning in, and asking about the conflicts stopping each student from testifying in person.
“It's incredibly disgusting and unfair that they have opted to signal availability for a phone call (or statement) rather than coming in person as was expected of me and all my witnesses and that you seemingly have signaled your acceptance of this by even asking us,” Little wrote to Pridgen.
As of Sunday night, two days before the appeal hearing, Pridgen had not responded.
If Ahern does not appear, Balamucki may call for the case to be tossed out, she told the DTH, as the Instrument guarantees Little the right to question any material witnesses.
Little had her own idea of a defense — one she based off of former Chancellor Carol Folt’s order to remove Silent Sam’s pedestal from campus the same day she announced her resignation.
“I am still having to appeal a punishment from the Honor Court for something that, essentially, at this point, Carol Folt has also done,” Little said.
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