Decorated Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet, has been prejudicially rejected by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s Graduate School. The university determined that his “alleged behavior is more likely than not to pose a danger to members of the University community, University property, or the proper function of the academic process.”

Here is the problem: Gilmet has not been convicted of a crime as he has not even been to trial. Nor did he commit one in the first place. Not only that but under normal circumstances, this particular UNC program is 97 percent online, with only 3 percent being on campus. So, it is unclear how Gilmet would have posed a danger to the university’s community. Additionally, UNC is now conducting classes entirely online due to COVID-19.

Why would a man with no criminal record be denied admission to a program that he is more than qualified for? Let’s examine the situation.

Gilmet is a member of the MARSOC 3, a group of Marine Raiders who have been falsely accused, by their command, of manslaughter and other overzealous charges for what video footage shows to be self-defense.

Eric Gilmet with Vice President Mike Pence.

In Erbil, Kurdistan (northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018, with permission to leave base, the three decorated Marine Raiders were assaulted by a drunken civilian contractor, Rick Rodriguez, after he instigated a verbal confrontation. Video footage shows Rodriguez, a retired Green Beret, acting so aggressively that he was thrown out of the establishment. Footage also shows that he decided to wait outside in the MARSOC 3’s path as they later exited and were walking to their vehicle. Rodriguez assaulted them. After he had thrown his third punch, one of the Raiders stepped in to defend his fellow Raiders from receiving additional harm and knocked Rodriguez out with one punch. Rodriguez’s group of friends either left or stood around not knowing what to do. The three Raiders brought the contractor back to base for observation.

Chief Eric Gilmet watched over Rodriguez through the night and into the morning. After having been relieved early that morning by a base contractor, Gilmet was called back to find that Rodriguez was now unresponsive. Gilmet provided CPR during the entire drive to the base hospital. Rodriguez was then transferred to a hospital in Germany where he died four days later of complications arising from his intoxicated state and from having choked on his own vomit.

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As a medic, Gilmet was highly qualified to care for Rodriguez. The MARSOC 3 acted in self-defense as video footage proves, and Gilmet’s only role was to provide care after Rodriguez’s sole instigation led to the situation’s eventual outcome.

During the subsequent Article 32 hearing, video evidence and testimony from the lead investigator confirmed that Rodriguez was the aggressor and sole instigator in the incident. It was also shown that the Marines did not use excessive force, nor did they attempt to obstruct justice. Despite that evidence, MARSOC leaders have contradicted their own core beliefs by neglecting to support the accused and their families, punishing the accused by taking away pay, and suspending their security clearances. Furthermore, they sent the accused to a general court-martial — which carries the most severe punishment — despite video evidence that shows self-defense. They also inexplicably included charges that were found to have no grounds during the Article 32 process.

In spite of Gilmet being an immensely trained and qualified medical professional, UNC determined in its final rejection letter that he, a trained lifesaver, somehow poses a threat to the university’s community. They did not afford a man who has not even gone to trial the presumption of innocence that he deserves. Instead, they assumed that just because he was accused of a crime he must be guilty.

UNC at no point provided transparency regarding exactly what led them to believe that Gilmet poses a threat. Additionally, UNC did not provide Gilmet with the opportunity to address any of their findings — particularly their psychological evaluation and other information they claimed to have found on the internet.

Gilmet initially received a rejection letter that stated he did not meet program requirements. Yet, he far exceeded all program requirements. He has a summa cum laude undergraduate degree from Norwich University with a GPA of 3.94 when the UNC program minimum is 3.0. He also has 18 years of health administration experience when the program’s minimum is only 3 years. After the initial rejection letter, Gilmet appealed only to be rejected a second time because the university felt he was likely to “pose a danger.”

Following Gilmet’s appeal, after promising him an answer within two weeks, the UNC Dean took four weeks to provide it. This meant that Gilmet received his rejection letter the day before classes started. As a result, it ensured that there was no time to appeal the decision anew.

Simply because Gilmet was honest and forthright about his situation from the start of his application, he was flagged by a flawed college admission system. The system’s flaws have been brought under the spotlight in recent years thanks to the Ban the Box movement. A few states (Louisiana and Washington) have already banned the use of criminal history information from determining whether an application is accepted. They have already seen positive results. Great Britain has also eliminated crime-related questions from all of its university applications.

Eric Gilmet and his wife.

According to one article from Inside Higher Ed:

“…recently, high-profile politicians have weighed in. In February [2018], U.S. senators Brian Schatz, Dick Durbin, and 16 others sent letters to the heads of the Common App, the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities pressing them to reconsider the use of criminal history information in admissions. In response, the Association of American Colleges and Universities asked its members to review their policies, and AACC’s Board of Directors agreed that application questions related to nonviolent offenses should be removed.”

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That article also states that: “For people with criminal histories seeking to attend college, the application question itself and the review procedures that follow have been shown to be insurmountable barriers. Thus, the ban the box movement in higher education is ultimately about access and inclusion.”

Below is the letter sent to Gilmet by the UNC Dean.

The Graduate School has thoroughly reviewed your appeal of the admissions decision that was rendered on July 7, 2020 denying your application to the Master of Healthcare Administration in the Health Policy and Management Off-Campus program. Appeals concerning admission decisions may be had only if it is contended that a provision of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Admissions Policy has been violated or if the decision not to admit the individual resulted from a material procedural error in the admissions process. Although you have not explicitly stated one of these reasons as the basis for your appeal, I have construed your statement, “I do not understand how I violated a community standard, nor was the reason explained to me in the rejection letter” as an assertion that the University’s denial of your admission resulted from a material procedural error in the admissions process.

Both your application and appeal were reviewed by the University’s Emergency Evaluation and Action Committee (EEAC), which is charged with reviewing students who may pose a danger to the University and/or its processes, including applicants for admission to the University who have a record of violent behavior. This review was triggered by responses to the community standards questions in your application which indicated that you are currently facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, obstructing justice, violation of a lawful general order, and violation of a lawful order. The EEAC’s role is to determine whether an applicant’s record of conduct potentially poses a serious danger to members of the University community, University property, or the proper functioning of the academic process. Unless the EEAC clears the applicant, our admissions office cannot act on the application for admission.

The EEAC reviewed your application materials, letter of appeal, supplementary materials provided by you via email, communications with the academic program and The Graduate School, the mode of program delivery, available information found via a standard internet search, and additional information that was submitted on your behalf. The Committee also consulted with UNC Police, Counseling and Psychological Services, and a military consultant on campus. After considering all of this information, the EEAC determined that your ‘alleged behavior is more likely than not to pose a danger to members of the University community, University property, or the proper function of the academic process’ and recommended that you not be admitted at this time [emphasis author’s]. Based on that recommendation, I cannot support your request to overturn your admissions decision. If you choose to apply to this or another graduate program at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill once your pending charges are resolved, The Graduate School will work with the EEAC and other campus offices to review your application and any new information about your situation.

You have the right to appeal my decision to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. Please note that the Provost will only consider an appeal if it is contended that a provision set forth in the admissions policy has been violated or that the decision not to admit the individual resulted from a material procedural error in the admissions, or appeal, process. Any appeal to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost must be submitted within 15 days of your receipt of this letter by filing a written appeal communicating the basis for your appeal.”

This is unacceptable from an organization as prestigious as UNC. The U.S. military has spent millions of dollars training Chief Gilmet: He would be an asset to UNC or any other university with a respected medical program.

Eric Gilmet and his son.

What do the statistics say about these types of decisions that deny men and women the chance to pursue higher education? The Center for Community Alternatives, has found the following:

  • A sizable minority (38 percent) of the responding schools does not collect or use criminal justice information and those schools do not report that their campuses are less safe as a result.
  • Less than half of the schools that collect and use criminal justice information have written policies in place and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information.
  • If it is discovered that an applicant has failed to disclose a criminal record there is an increased likelihood that the applicant will be denied admission or have their admission offer rescinded.

No link has been established between having a criminal record and posing a risk to campus safety.

While college campuses are not immune from crime, the data shows that they are remarkably safe places compared to the community-at-large. This is particularly true for serious crimes that involve personal violence. Violent crime on campus is rare. The few college students who are victims of such crimes are mostly victimized off-campus by strangers. The Virginia Tech incident, a tragic but aberrational event, was committed by a student who did not have a criminal record. Our argument for eliminating the collection and use of CJI in admissions decisions is in large part based on the absence of any empirical evidence showing that students with criminal records pose a safety risk on campus.

Having a criminal record is not an unusual characteristic in America today.

There has been a dramatic increase in the reach of criminal sanctions over the past three decades. As a result, by year-end 2008 more than 92 million Americans had a criminal history record (arrest and/or conviction) on file in the state repositories, and more than 2.3 million people were in jails and prisons, giving the U.S. the highest incarceration rate in the world.

These high numbers are largely driven by the phenomenon of “overcriminalization” — classifying an ever-widening range of behaviors as criminal. Misdemeanor cases, many of them involving petty offenses like underage drinking, have doubled in the past 30 years.

Accepting college applicants with criminal records promotes public safety.

Higher education opens doors of opportunity, enhances critical thinking, and leads to better and more stable employment. Studies show that college education dramatically reduces recidivism. Colleges and universities promote public safety when they open their doors to people with criminal records who demonstrate the commitment and qualifications to pursue a college education.

There is growing support for returning higher education to correctional facilities.

The Second Chance Act, which passed Congress on March 11, 2008, the Senate and House versions of H.R. 4137, and the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 all include provisions that improve access to higher education for people during their incarceration. It is ironic that as the doors to higher education are reopening in prisons, they are closing on the outside. Given what we know about the commission of serious crimes on campus — that they are most often committed by students without criminal records — excluding people with records from attending college will only serve to create a false sense of security.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is guilty of discrimination. It shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. There is an active push to get President Trump to intervene and negotiate UNC’s acceptance of Gilmet, or to raise enough awareness for another top tier school to accept this model candidate to their medical program. At a minimum, UNC should offer an apology and potentially even a full scholarship to Chief Petty Officer Gilmet.