(CBS) - The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has suspended Honor Court charges filed against a student who spoke out about how the university treated her claim of rape.
The prestigious university has been under fire in recent months after three students, a former dean and an alumna filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights about how the university handles sexual assault reports by students.
On March 8, the DOE announced it was launching an investigation into the merits of the complaint, and the university has agreed to cooperate.
One complainant, sophomore Landen Gambill, made news earlier this month when she went public with the fact that she was being brought up on Honor Court charges for engaging in what the student newspaper called "disruptive and intimidating behavior" against the man she accused of raping her.
Gambill denied the charges, arguing that she had never publicly named her alleged rapist.CBS affiliate WRAL reports that the man was cleared of the sexual assault charge by a campus board, but was found guilty of harassing Gambill.
According to the Daily Tar Heel, Gambill's attorney, Henry Clay Turner, sent a letter to the university on Monday alleging that the Honor Court charges are "retaliatory" and "unconstitutional." The university's Honor Court is made up of undergraduates who hear cases against fellow students accused of various kinds of misconduct, including cheating.
"The First Amendment protects Ms. Gambill's right to speak out about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and about UNC's shameful handling of her case," Turner reportedly said in the letter.
In an open letter to students, faculty and staff, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said,"For several weeks, the University has grappled with how best to respond to a public claim of retaliation against the University while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of our Honor Court proceedings and the privacy of the individuals involved."
The statement continued: "We have asked the Student Attorney General to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations of retaliation."
One of the five complainants, former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning, told Crimesider that suspending the proceedings against Gambill is "a good start."
"I'm glad they are taking this seriously, but at the end of the day she should never have been charged," Manning said.In April 2011, the DOE issued a "Dear Colleague" letter reminding universities that, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, they are required to provide a process to handle student allegations of sexual assault.
Previously on Crimesider