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

Jan 17, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT

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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.

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