Willingham shares data with officials

Former athletic tutor Mary Willingham said she turned her data on athletes’ literacy levels over to UNC for what she says was the fourth time Monday night.

In a 90-minute meeting with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean, she gave him two sets of data that reportedly detail the low literacy rates and SAT scores of 183 student-athletes in football or basketball between 2004 and 2012.

But she said she doesn’t expect the meeting, which she described as a “mix of collegiality and hostility,” to amount to much — she said she’s sent the data to UNC’s General Counsel in 2010 and former N.C. Gov. Jim Martin in 2012 with no reaction.

“I know that they’re going to come back and tell me that it’s wrong,” Willingham said. “They deny and they deny, and that’s not helping students.”

“There’s a pretty good track record of how many times this data, the data that the athletic department fought and paid for. There’s a pretty good track record of all the times it’s been given back to them, so here’s one more time.”

The first time Willingham sent Dean the data, she sent it redacted — without athletes’ names — and the second time she included the names of athletes. She said she has not heard from Chancellor Carol Folt about her study.

During the Faculty Athletics Committee meeting Tuesday, Dean said it is too soon to tell whether the data, primarily vocabulary tests, can accurately come to the conclusions detailed in the CNN article.

“Can the combination of the data get us to the point of acceptance to what we need?” he said.

“It’s reasonably complicated. If it was clear to us that the allegations were true, we would have been embarrassed and we would have accepted it.”

Dean said he will likely ask a third party to look at the data sets as well.

Folt, who spoke at the committee meeting about UNC’s response, said that current efforts to improve athletics, such as the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group, would push the University forward.

“We’re talking about things that may not have happened with any of us in this role,” she said.

But clear results from these changes would take time, she said.

“We need to accept the work that that takes. It might not be the most beautiful story … it’s an underlying part of that story,” Folt said. “I’m going to talk about that, because to leave that out, is to leave out hundreds of thousands of hours of work.”

Folt said she appreciates the curiousity surrounding the athletics program.

“Light is the best disinfectant,” she said. “Well, we have lots of light. We continue to be open to people’s questions.”

Faculty Athletics Committee Chairwoman Joy Renner said she has invited Willingham to meet with the group so they can discuss the data, which could raise more issues and be a constructive conversation, she said.

Willingham said she doesn’t plan to return to future meetings and senses hostility directed at her.

She said she stands by the accuracy of her studies.

“From 2004 to 2010, I know all their faces,” she said. “I can see all of them. I worked with them, and those are their scores.”

Senior writer Daniel Schere contributed reporting.


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