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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Officials stand by UNC’s reporting of sexual assault cases

Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Leslie Strohm told the University Board of Trustees on Jan. 24 that the allegations that her office under-reported sexual assault cases “are false, they are untrue and they are just plain wrong.”

She presented two separate documents with the numbers to prove it.

According to The Daily Tar Heel, a complaint about how the University handles sexual assault cases was filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint also reportedly alleges that the University under-reported cases of sexual assault in its annual Campus Security Report.

The complaint, which Strohm said the University has not yet received, reportedly alleges that the University had violated a number of federal laws, including the Clery Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The first document Strohm showed trustees was a one-page email that former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning sent to her supervisor in Student Affairs. The email reported 16 sex offenses in 2010 – 12 that took place on campus and four off campus. Of those on campus, 10 took place in residence halls, the email showed.

Strohm then presented an excerpt from the 2011 Campus Security Report that listed 14 sex offenses taking place in campus residence halls (four more than Manning’s email reported) and five other offenses elsewhere on campus (three more than Manning’s email indicated), along with the same number Manning gave for off-campus offenses.

“So the facts are these: The Office of University Counsel reported every single sex offense that Melinda Manning sent to us, plus seven additional sex offenses that we gathered through our outreach to other offices like campus police and Chapel Hill police,” Strohm said.

The Campus Security Report is a document the University is required to prepare under a federal law known as the Clery Act, which also requires that the report be publicly posted each October.

Strohm said her office begins gathering data for the report in January from a range of sources, including Student Affairs, the Office of Human Resources, UNC Public Safety, Chapel Hill Police, Carrboro Police, other law enforcement in any jurisdiction where the University owns or leases property, and
UNC Hospitals.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said it is important for the campus community to understand the diligence and care that Strohm and her staff have exercised to address this issue. “It is a daunting task but it is one we do well and we do with the greatest sense of responsibility,” Thorp said.

Thorp said he had a conversation over the weekend with Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, president of Amherst College, which has faced similar concerns about its handling of sexual assault complaints and has positively responded to these concerns. Based on that conversation, Thorp said the University was seeking approval to retain Gina Maisto Smith, a nationally recognized lawyer and leading consultant on sexual misconduct issues, to bring a healthy outside perspective on where things stand currently at Carolina.

University Trustee Chair Wade Hargrove encouraged people to reserve final judgment of the matter until all the facts are in. He said it would be “premature and inappropriate” to comment on allegations that have been levied from a complaint that the University has not yet seen.

“I just want to assure the campus community and others outside Chapel Hill that we are taking it quite seriously,” Hargrove said. “We are looking at it and trying to get our arms around the facts. And we will deal with it in a timely and responsible manner.”

Thorp also pointed out that the University has been in “a fluid and changing environment” since the Office for Civil Rights sent a new set of standards in 2011 under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. These were presented in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

In response, many campuses, including Carolina, launched an extensive review of policies and procedures for addressing and responding to sexual assault allegations, Thorp said.

Those guidelines formed the basis for an overhauled policy implemented at UNC this academic year (see the Policy on Prohibited Harassment, Including Sexual Misconduct, and Discrimination,

Thorp said it is his firm belief that student well-being, despite the other difficult issues Carolina has faced in recent months, is the most important issue facing higher education, and he welcomed feedback on the issues.

“It is as challenging as anything we have to do,” he said. “It involves sensitive and difficult issues, and it involves trying to treat people fairly within that environment.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said that although federal law prohibited him from addressing specific allegations reported in the paper, he looked forward to responding fully when the opportunity arose.

“Let me join with the chancellor in saying unequivocally that I see this issue as one of utmost importance,” Crisp said. “We absolutely have a responsibility to provide all the support and services to all of the victims of sexual violence we possibly can.”

Crisp said he had spent 20 years on this campus working on this issue and others involving students and that he remained “dedicated to creating an atmosphere that is worthy of this place.”

Thorp said it may take about a month for the Office for Civil Rights to evaluate the complaint. If the office determines that an investigation is warranted, “we will cooperate fully with them,” he said.

Strohm said that she “fervently hoped” that the allegation was the result of a misunderstanding.

“It is clear that the OCR complaint has sparked a conversation about sexual violence,” Strohm said. “That is a conversation that is important and definitely worth having.

“It is a conversation that is only going to be successful if it is approached with honesty and facts and good will and a team effort to jointly solve this problem that is so important to all of us. The Office of University Counsel looks forward to being a part of that conversation.”