CHAPEL HILL UNC-Chapel Hill leaders say they take the issue of rape seriously, and on Thursday they strongly denied a claim by a former administrator that the university deliberately under-reported sexual assault cases in 2010.
Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Leslie Strohm forcefully responded to the claim at a meeting of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees. She said the allegations that her office manipulated sexual assault reports are false, they are untrue, and they are just plain wrong.
She presented the trustees with a copy of an email from a former assistant dean of students, Melinda Manning, who signed on to a federal complaint last week by students who claim the university violated sexual assault victims rights and broke the law. In the internal email dated Sept. 13, 2011, Manning presented 2010 statistics she had gathered on sexual assault cases, which totaled 16.
Strohm also showed the universitys official report on sexual assault cases for that year, which totaled 23 seven more than Manning had reported.
Manning resigned in December and joined three current students and a former student in filing a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Civil Rights. Federal officials are reviewing the complaint to determine whether to launch an investigation.
UNC-CH officials said it was difficult to respond in detail to the complaint because they still havent seen it. The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper obtained a copy and reported its contents.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the university is working to retain Gina Smith, a consultant, former prosecutor and nationally recognized expert on sexual assault. Smith recently worked with Amherst College, which has dealt with scathing allegations from a student who wrote about poor treatment by the college after she was sexually assaulted.
Thorp said he had a weekend conversation with Amherst President Biddy Martin, who has been applauded for her response to problems there.
It is a daunting responsibility to get this right, Thorp said. Its as challenging as anything that we have to do. It involves sensitive and difficult issues, and it involves trying to treat people fairly within that environment.
The university has recently changed its policies and systems to conform with recent federal guidelines about the handling of sexual violence by campuses across the United States. Thorp said it was important to remember that some of the reported allegations in the complaint occurred before the recent overhaul of UNC-CHs policies.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said he considered sexual violence to be an issue of utmost importance. He said the university had worked for a year to rewrite procedures, recruit new staff and create a department to handle issues of student violence.
Ive spent more than 20 years on this campus working on these and other issues, Crisp said. I have been, and continue to be, absolutely dedicated to helping create and maintain an environment worthy of this place. My actions, I believe, have always been consistent with that dedication.
Trustee Chairman Wade Hargrove said it would be premature and inappropriate to speak to the specifics of a complaint the university has not seen. Were trying to get our arms around the facts, Hargrove said.