Does the University of North Carolina have any grasp of institutional ethics? (With a bonus thought-experiment.)

And here, the follow-up question to the one posed in the title of this post: Does UNC - Chapel Hill get that "institutional ethics" involves more than protecting the interests of the institution at the expense of people like its students?

Because this story makes me wonder. In brief:

  • UNC student Landen Gambill reported that she was sexually assaulted by another UNC student.
  • At the time she reported the assault, the UNC mechanism for dealing with such reports was through the student-run Honor Court.
  • About month after the Honor Court heard Gambill's case, the UNC Honor Court was stripped of its ability to hear sexual assault allegations because the way it had been dealing with such allegations was probably not in compliance with Title IX
  • The Honor Court ruled that Gambill's sexual assault allegations lacked sufficient evidence to impose punishment on the other student she alleged had assaulted her.
  • Gambill and 64 others (including a former UNC Dean of Students) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the way reports of sexual assaults, and students making those reports, are treated at UNC results in illegal underreporting.*
  • Now, Landen Gambill is herself being charged by the student-run UNC Honor Court with violation of the Honor Code because, apparently, her participation in filing the complaint against UNC amounts to “Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another…. so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for university employment, participation in university-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”
  • It is worth noting that Gambill has made no public identification of the UNC student she alleges assaulted her.
  • UNC spokespeople deny that the Honor Court charge against Gambill is retaliatory -- and also deny that there is much the UNC admiinistration can do to keep the Honor Court from continuing on a course that looks very much like charging a student for reporting a sexual assault. From Inside Higher Ed:

    [A] UNC spokesperson said the university may not “encourage or prevent” the Honor Court’s top officials, the student attorneys general, from filing charges in any case. Given that, “a claim of retaliation by the university would be without merit,” Karen Moon, director of UNC News Services, said in an email. The court may consult with a faculty advisory committee on difficult cases, but Moon said she could not comment on whether they had. While there is a process for administrators to hear and overturn cases, Moon said, it must be initiated by the student attorneys general.

    So, it's the students who are mounting this action, and the university officials must stand helplessly by and hope it all turns out all right, I guess?

Let's take this case as an opportunity for a thought-experiment.

Imagine you're an administrator at a university. You want to maintain the university's reputation, so students will still apply for admission and faculty will still want to work there. You want to keep the university in compliance with relevant laws and regulations so, for example, you don't get cut out of federal funding of various sorts. You want to find sensible ways to create a campus environment where students can learn and be safe, and where students are active participants in upholding shared standards of conduct (which cover not only standards of scholarly conduct but reasonable ways to treat others within the campus community).

What are your first three ideas for productive steps forward from a mess like this? (Bonus points if these ideas seem likely to succeed.) And, how to you get buy-in from the relevant segments of the university community to actually take these steps?

Alternatively, consider the same situation from the point of view of a student and propose your first three ideas for productive steps forward.
*The relevant laws the complaint alleges that UNC is violating by underreporting its campus sexual assault are the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

3 responses so far

  • slybrarian says:

    I imagine that if she had reported the assault to the police instead of some nebulous student Honor Court that they would have long since expelled her for making them look bad.

  • DJMH says:

    UNC: Making Duke Look Good.

  • becca says:

    First, does UNC have a full time Cleary act compliance officer and require mandatory training for every employee? Because those seem to be the minimal response when this stuff happens.

    In all honesty, the former dean of students sounds like ze would probably have some ideas for what the actual specific problems for UNC. But the general problem is the lack of a supportive response to victims of sexual assault that does not violate the legal proceedings due process for perpetrators. It sounds like UNC is going to refrain from having the honor code handle this kind of stuff in the future, which is probably for the best.

    In addition, it seems obvious that everyone involved in an honor code needs training in all the legal requirements the university is subject to, including the Cleary act. It might even be worthwhile to get ALL students familiar with FERPA, HIPPA, the Cleary act, and so on.

    In a perfect world, what I think a university should do is to have a set of trained counselors who have experience in sexual assault, including somebody available on call 24/7 to respond to a hotline, who can talk to a victim and get them:
    1) Emergency contraception, medical care, access to a rape kit IMMEDIATELY
    2) contact with law-enforcement with a university provided lawyer present who represents the victim, if desired
    3) a water-tight physician's note from class/on campus jobs/ect. for at least a month- enforced with campus policy
    4) ongoing no cost access to individual and group counseling for as long as needed, even if the student withdraws from the university