The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Committee on Women sent this letter to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp:
Dr. Holden Thorp Chancellor
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 103 South Building Campus Box 9100
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
Dear Chancellor Thorp:
We write in behalf of the AAUP Committee on Women in the Academic Profession in support of and in solidarity with UNC student, Landen Gambill, who has been charged with an honor code violation, and risks expulsion from the university. We understand that, according to a letter from the student court to Ms. Gambill, she has been charged with “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes” with another’s academic pursuits at the university. We understand further that she was notified of the charges shortly after joining a group of students, a former student, and former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning, who stepped down after eleven years spent serving primarily as an ally for sexual assault victims, who filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the university facilitated a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault. According to press accounts, Ms. Landen had filed a sexual assault charge with the Honor Court against her ex-boyfriend in spring 2012. Although the court cleared him of the charges, Ms. Landen subsequently spoke out publicly about the court’s mishandling of her complaint and violation of her right to privacy. We understand that Ms. Gambill has never publicly named her alleged abuser, and thus has done nothing to interfere with his academic pursuits. Rather, she has simply sought to address the hostile climate for rape victims on campus.
Although university officials have maintained they play no role in determining these recent charges against Ms. Gambill, presumably she could not have been charged without an administrator’s approval. UNC’s Honor Code outlines the administration’s oversight role, stating that the Judicial Programs Officer should “serve as the designate of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs in coordinating and advising the Honor System.” Charging a plaintiff in a sexual assault case with an Honor Court violation appears very much like retaliation for raising the issue of sexual assault. Such action by UNC can only serve to silence survivors of sexual violence and to contribute to the chilly campus climate delineated by the recent “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education.
The American Association of University Professors has long recognized that the freedom to teach and to learn is inseparable from a safe and hospitable learning environment. The Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, originally formulated in 1967, states that the “freedom to learn depends upon appropriate opportunities and conditions in the classroom, on the campus, and in the larger community.” As members of the AAUP’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, we are deeply concerned with this attempt to further silence and discipline an alleged sexual assault survivor. Our recent report on sexual violence on campus (attached), Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures, notes that the trauma of rape is compounded by the failure of university administrators to respond to the crime appropriately.
We are pleased to learn that the student court will no longer be permitted to hear sexual assault cases in response to new guidance from the Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter. We urge that the university drop the charges pending against Ms. Gambill. As the university community undertakes its long overdue revision of sexual assault policies and procedures, we also urge that experts in the area of sexijal assault, including faculty, be centrally involved in this process. Ultimately, when rape victims and those who raise allegations of sexual assault are silenced, the educational mission of the university is compromised, diminishing the academic freedom of students and faculty members alike.
Sincerely, Ann Green
Professor, Saint Joseph’s University
Professor, Kansas State University
cc:Ms. Landen Gambill
Ms. Melissa Manning
Ms. Annie Clark
Ms. Andrea Pino
AAUP Committee on Women In the Academic Profession