UNC given 20 days to provide information on sexual assault policy

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 06:57 PM

UNC has 20 days to respond to a request from the U.S. Department of Education for data and documents as the federal agency moves forward with its investigation into charges the university has mishandled allegations of sexual assault.

In a letter to Chancellor Holden Thorp dated March 1, officials with the agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) asked for the university’s Title IX policies and procedures regarding sexual assault, grievance procedures for complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault and the university’s Student Code of Conduct or Student Handbook as part of more than two pages of such requests.

The university has released a statement saying that it will “respond appropriately to the OCR’s request for information and cooperate fully with the investigation.”

The information requested, which generally covers the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years, is due in Washington, D.C., by March 21.

The OCR’s request for information comes as a result of its decision to investigate claims by five women that the university mishandles sexual assaults.

The women released letters they received from the agency on Wednesday informing them of the decision to investigate their claims.

Robin Murphy, an official with the agency, said in the letter that there might be a need for information beyond that requested, and noted the possibility of a campus visit.

“If we find it necessary to conduct an on-site investigation of the complaint, we will notify you in advance of our proposed plans to visit the university,” Murphy said.

Other data requested include the name and job title of the university’s Title IX coordinator and any other person designated to handle complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence or other discrimination based on sex.

The agency asked for information indicating how students, staff and others are notified about how to file a complaint, a detailed description of training provided to university staff covering sexual assault and a description of training provided to hearing committee members about such incidents.

The university must also provide a spreadsheet of all student complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault and sexual violence brought to the university’s attention either “formally or informally” during the periods being investigated.

As in the letters sent to the complainants, the one received by the university also made clear that a decision to investigate the complaints does not imply that the “OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

On Wednesday, Annie Clark, one of five complainants in the case, said she was confident the investigation would substantiate the women’s claim.    

“I would have been shocked had they chosen not to after reviewing our complaint,” said Annie Clark, a 2011 graduate of the university.

Clark, a victim of sexual assault in 2007 while a student at UNC, said the women want to change the culture at UNC and campuses across the nation.

“This is about a larger picture,” Clark said. “This is something that has happened at every campus in the country, and when it does happen, survivors are often being treated inappropriately and illegally.

Clark, along with current students Landen Gambill, Andrea Pino, an unnamed student and former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning, filed the complaint in January.  

They allege the university violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

Manning also has accused university officials of pressuring her into lowering the number of reported offenses and claims there were three fewer cases in the Annual Campus Security Report than she originally submitted.

UNC officials vigorously denied the charge during a Board of Trustees meeting in January. Officials contend that the report, in fact, contained more incidents of sexual violence than Manning had submitted.

Last week, more than 250 students rallied outside the university’s administration building in support of Gambill, who faces the possibility of expulsion for speaking out about allegedly being raped by an ex-boyfriend, a fellow student who Gambill has not publicly named.

An attorney for the ex-boyfriend contends that Gambill has made life difficult for his client, who was found not guilty of sexual misconduct in a 5-0 vote by a university hearing board that included one administrator, two faculty members and two students.

Meanwhile, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp has hired Gina Smith, a nationally known consultant and expert on sexual assault, to review UNC’s reporting policy to make sure the university is using best policies and procedures.