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North Carolina suspends research work of Mary Willingham in aftermath of CNN report

Jan 17, 2014, 1:18 PM EST

North Carolina Getty Images

A little over a week ago a study completed by CNN took a look at the academic credentials of student-athletes entering college, focusing on their reading levels specifically. According to the research done by correspondent Sara Ganim, anywhere from seven to eighteen percent of basketball and football players at some Division I schools are reading at an elementary school level.

Despite the gravity of the findings this surprised few familiar with big-time college athletics, as it’s been an issue for years. One of the individuals interviewed was Mary Willingham, who at one time worked with student-athletes at the University of North Carolina, and through her time at the school she encountered players who were illiterate much less reading at a substandard level.

Her findings, and that of the CNN report, were disputed by the school and on Thursday it was announced that UNC’s research review board has suspended Willingham’s research work on the topic of the “literacy level of university athletes.”

“Ms. Willingham had said a number of times that she had identified data, and in fact had shared some pieces of it … in connection with earlier investigations,” Provost Jim Dean said. “The (review board) had decided to look into her case before she finally turned the data set over to me.”

He added that Willingham “did not have the authority to use identifiable data because to do so would have required (review board) … approval, which she did not have.”

According to the Raleigh News & Observer Willingham will have the opportunity to meet with the review board to discuss not only what led to her releasing her data but also the steps she would take in the future to “protect her data.” Willingham was recently named a witness by the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, and she was also the whistleblower in regards to student-athletes being enrolled in “no-show” classes.

In response to CNN’s report UNC chancellor Carol Folt stated that while the school disputes the accuracy of the report it would take a thorough look at the claims.

  1. jcmeyer10 - Jan 17, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    Haha, that’s shameless. She tries to show what a mockery college athletics CAN be and she gets shut down.

    • sabatimus - Jan 18, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      I can’t think of a bigger admission by NC that the findings were true.

  2. savethisname - Jan 17, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    What a surprise that they suspended her research, sounds like there will be a lot more revealed concerning the lack
    of legitimacy of some of these big time college athletes. I am all for college athletics programs providing opportunities to
    student athletes who would not normally qualify for their admission standards but not as the cost of making a mockery of the whole system.

  3. shockertalk - Jan 17, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Lets hope that CNN continues to follow up persistently until the valuable research is reinstated and the rest of the data comes out.

    The elite schools are in the limelight and, thus, entrusted with the image of college basketball. They owe ALL the NCAA schools an obligation to perform with integrity in ALL areas.

  4. 32stork - Jan 18, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    UNC: the latest academic joke!

  5. sportfan2 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    Tell me something we don’t already know, no secret about this.

    What I don’t understand is this. I’m convinced non athletics get in with bad credentials as well. Colleges are now all about making money, some have billions of dollars in endowments and still charge outlandish fees to students who have no way to ever pay back loans. Colleges like some business and like the government are corrupt.

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