Cover-up Culture at UNC?

Serious allegations and shady handling make for an ugly situation

We look to universities to help prepare our youth for the rest of their lives, but all too often it has been revealed that administrators ignore major wrongs in the interest of collecting more tuition and avoiding costly settlements.

In the University of North Carolina’s case, new allegations and some atrocious crisis management may have revealed the existence of a cover-up culture when it comes to sexual assaults on students.

Punished for speaking out?

The following quote, from a Charlotte Observer article by Jane Stancill, has more details:

Weeks after filing a federal complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill for its handling of sexual assault cases, a student faces an honor court trial herself, accused of “intimidating behavior” against a fellow student she says raped her.

Landen Gambill, a sophomore from Mooresville, was informed last week by the student-run judicial system that she has been charged with an honor code violation for speaking out about alleged abuse and sexual violence by an ex-boyfriend, who also is a UNC-CH student. A letter from the system to Gambill said that she had been charged with “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes” with another’s academic pursuits at the university.

It’s important to note here that Gambill has never once mentioned the name of her alleged attacker in public, only referring to him as an “ex-boyfriend.”

A total of five women, including former associate dean of students Melinda Manning, are participating in the federal complaint against UNC, alleging discrimination of alleged sexual assault victims and their advocates, and a virtual army of supporters has sprung up via social media.

A weak excuse

Essentially, university leadership is allowing the “Honor Court,” a student-run organization with the primary task of settling petty disputes or noise complaints, and one which has been barred from hearing sexual assault cases since its controversial handling of Gambill’s original case, to again become involved in something that is WAY over the heads of any student.

It doesn’t matter if you want to label them as a “Student Attorney General,” they have no legal power and they, quite simply, do not have the experience required to make decisions that may deeply impact the lives of others.

At the same time, university officials are washing their hands of the situation, stating that “administrators can neither encourage nor prevent charges against students.”

You know what we call that? A cop out.

Ignoring basic crisis management

Even if the university is vehemently in denial of Gambill’s story, basic crisis management strategy would dictate that it should absolutely not allow any further student involvement in a case that is likely to go before a federal court.

The fact that UNC is allowing a student to face the potential for suspension or expulsion because she has gone public regarding her own rape is at best negligent, and at worst a case of cat’s-paw manipulation and intimidation.

With such damning evidence as Manning’s testimony, reported in the Daily Tar Heel, which explains the reason she left her post because she was pressured to underreport cases of sexual assault, UNC looks to be in hot water.

The case is still evolving, but unless UNC stops hiding behind a student committee and gets on board with the whole, honesty, transparency, compassion deal, its reputation is headed towards a serious beating in the court of public opinion.

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