The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

UNC will seek outside research into athlete literacy

There have been eight reports released on the relationship between academics and athletics at UNC in the past three years — and more related investigations are likely on their way.

The UNC administration presented its own evidence Friday against learning specialist Mary Willingham’s claims that the University admitted 183 football and basketball players that were not college literate, and announced that UNC will also seek an outside perspective.

“Whatever I say about the construct validity of the test will be discounted,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean at the Faculty Council meeting Friday. “We’re about truth, we’re not about opinions.”

UNC’s statistics on athlete admissions show that between 2004 and 2012, UNC enrolled 341 men’s and women’s basketball players and football players. Of those, 34 students didn’t meet CNN’s threshold of “college literate” — an SAT score of 400 or 16 on the ACT.

In 2012, UNC only admitted two students who did not meet that criteria, and did not admit any in 2013.

“As far as we know, they’re doing fine,” said Vice Provost of Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions Steve Farmer. “Honestly I think if most people in this room read the applications of these kids, you would have wanted to admit them too.”

In addition, the 10-minute test that Willingham used to gauge athlete literacy, the reading vocabulary subset of the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults, was not an accurate measure of literacy, Dean said.

“This isn’t about what tests were given, this is about what data were used to draw the conclusions,” Dean said to a group of reporters Friday.

Dean presented statistics showing Willingham determined reading levels of athletes based on raw scores of an adult literacy test, as opposed to the higher grade equivalent that corresponds to that score.

“Using this dataset to say our students can’t read is a travesty,” he said. “The claims made based on this dataset are virtually meaningless and grossly unfair to our students.”

Willingham maintains that her methods were effective.

“Raw scores are necessary to evaluate data, and the raw scores were sitting with the educational psychologist who actually did the evaluations, and she was never called, even though she was a contracted employee hired by university for close to 16 years,” she said in an interview Monday.

She said UNC’s analysis of her data does not tell the whole story — she said she also gave Dean the athletes’ SAT and ACT scores, GPAs, credit hours and academic standing information.

She said she stands by her research, and this was another attempt to undermine her.

“I’m just a little confused about why we go to the extreme to prove that people are wrong when we’re really supposed to be in the business of helping students,” she said. “It’s very sad.”

Last week, UNC’s Institutional Research Board rescinded its approval of Willingham’s research. In a letter, the board states that her data, which screened attention deficit disorder and learning disorders in student athletes, identified its participants, which is a violation of the previous conditions of approval.

Some members of the Faculty Council expressed concern with the way the decision was made.

Political science professor Frank Baumgartner said the University’s response to the allegations was disappointing.

“What I see unfortunately so far is a strategy of denial,” he said at the meeting.

Chancellor Carol Folt said Friday that UNC will work to explain the IRB’s decision. Vice Chancellor of Research Barbara Entwisle said there were no outside pressures contributing to the decision.

“When there are names leaked in medical studies, that’s a major problem for an institution,” Folt said. “Anything about humans … is highly protected.”

Willingham plans to meet with the board Wednesday, and if her research is approved, she will hire an outside investigator to validate her claims.

“How could I be breaking federal law by talking about the data, but they are talking about the data,” she said. “I mean it seems pretty peculiar.”

She said she has no plans to contact Dean again because she does not think she has been taken seriously.

“I respect other professionals at Carolina, and I feel like as a staff member, I’m not being respected as an educated member of the community.”

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