Willingham responds to criticism of research


Data that I collected while assessing the reading and writing abilities of a subset of UNC athletes between 2005 and 2012 have been the source of great controversy on our campus recently. There are a number of misconceptions that I would like to dispel.

I want to make clear that, in my opinion, the Institutional Review Board acted in good faith when it put a halt to my research in January. I never intentionally misled anyone about the data I was collecting, but I understand that the IRB must comply with federal guidelines. I have never meant to impugn the professionalism of the IRB.

The data I collected between 2005 and 2012 are objective scores earned on tests which I did not even administer; the fact that scores could theoretically be traced back to the individuals who earned them does not change the fact that those were their scores.

As for the provost’s claim that I badly misinterpreted the scores in question, I have nearly 12 years of experience in interpreting reading scores. I have interpreted the scores of literally hundreds of students over the years, and for four years I worked closely with specialists in disability services here at UNC to correlate test scores with specific forms of learning disability.

Many people have scoffed at my claim that some UNC athletes are nonreaders or read significantly below grade level. This continues a pattern, since I have tried without cease since the fall of 2010 to alert University leaders to problems with the education of our athletes; time and again I have seen my claims denied or ignored.

In any case, neither the effort to dispute my data nor the reforms recently introduced help to address the structural inequalities built into the big-time college sport enterprise. Too many UNC athletes have been forced to accept a watered down version of a college education.

We owe past, current and future athletes an honest confrontation with this injustice.

Mary Willingham
Learning Specialist
Center for Student Success & Acadmic Counseling

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