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06/07/2013 06:19 pm ET Updated Jun 07, 2013

UNC Honor Court Charges Against Landen Gambill Dismissed; Report Finds No Retaliation

AP

After an external review, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill announced Thursday that it dropped a school honor court charge against Landen Gambill, a student who was accused of "intimidating" the man she says sexually assaulted her.

Gambill was one of five women who filed two federal complaints against UNC in January alleging that the school underreports sexual assaults and fails to properly adjudicate them. Gambill spoke out about what she said was a failure on the part of the UNC honor court, which found her ex-boyfriend not guilty of assault. She never identified him by name, but was nevertheless hit with an honor court charge brought against her by the ex-boyfriend in February, claiming Gambill created an "intimidating" and "hostile" environment for him.

Gambill believed the charge was actually retaliation from the school for her federal complaints, and after an intense backlash, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp asked the honor court to suspend the charge in March. Thorp, who will leave office this summer, told the campus Thursday that the charge was being dropped.

But Gambill's charge is only being dropped because the UNC administration has recommended that all students charged with "disruptive or intimidating behavior" should have those charges dismissed, pending an evaluation of that specific honor code provision by a campus committee.

"This action is not a challenge to the important role of students in our Honor System, but is intended to protect the free speech rights of our students," Thorp said in a letter to students, adding "This situation has raised important issue that will deserve further discussion. While I will not be here to take part in those discussions, I am confident that all of you will work together to help develop solutions that work for the whole Carolina community."

Gambill told The Huffington Post she was relieved she no longer faces the threat of expulsion, but is disappointed it took them so long to dismiss the accusation.

The announcement comes with the conclusion of an external review by Barbara Lee, a Rutgers University professor who teaches higher education law. Lee concluded that Gambill's charge was not retribution, but found problems in honor court proceedings.

Lee's report, obtained by The Huffington Post, stated the student attorney general was worried that charging Gambill would be perceived as retaliation. The SAG told Lee in the investigation that she did not receive proper training on how to determine if there was a "reasonable basis" for Gambill's guilt, but was advised to use a "30 percent probability" in deciding to bring charges. Erik Hunter, judicial programs officer in the Office of Student Conduct, told Lee he believed evidence for an honor court violation was "thin." Hunter did not try to persuade the SAG to not file charges, though.

Henry Clay Turner, Gambill's attorney, said they still expect federal officials to "conduct a thorough, credible investigation" in response to a complaint they filed in March -- the third against UNC -- claiming the charge was retaliation.

"The charge against me was an attempt to threaten a survivor of sexual violence into silence, but I am determined to make UNC a place where survivors are believed, trusted and protected, not shamed, silenced and bullied," Gambill said.

Gambill said she plans to remain vocal about how colleges handle reports of sexual misconduct. The U.S. Department of Education opened two separate investigations into UNC in response to her complaint, and students at several other colleges have since filed similar complaints against their institutions.

Retaliating against whistleblowers like Gambill is expressly forbidden by federal statute.

"Far too many women have came to me and told me about how they were ignored, silenced, called liars and false accusers -- and yes, even punished -- for reporting sexual violence at their respective universities for me to sit back and do nothing," Gambill said.

Carol Folt, interim president of Dartmouth College, will replace Thorp when he steps down on June 30. Coincidentally, Dartmouth was one of several schools accused in 2013 of underreporting sexual assaults with a federal Clery Act complaint. Some of the Dartmouth complainants were hit with their own honor code charges for an anti-rape demonstration, however, the students said they believe their conduct violation charges were in fact retaliation.

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