The battle over the accuracy of Mary Willingham’s research could soon be entering the legal front.
Willingham said in an interview she is considering bringing a lawsuit against Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean after she said he discredited her findings regarding the literacy of student-athletes.
Earlier this month, the University’s Institutional Review Board rescinded its determination that Willingham would not need board approval to conduct her research because she used athletes’ names. The board said when Willingham applied, she said she would not use names.
“To me (Dean’s) the one that said I was lying and he’s the one that said it was a travesty to the University,” Willingham said. “It’s got to be against that. I mean he’s the one who pulled the IRB status and asked me for the identifiable data, so I mean it’s got to be against him. It can’t really be against anybody else.”
UNC spokeswoman Tanya Moore said the University declined to comment about speculation on a possible litigation.
Willingham said she has been in contact with her attorneys along with a whistleblower protection agency in determining what her next step will be.
“I’m just weighing all my options at this point, trying to figure out what makes the most sense,” she said.
At the heart of the issue, Willingham said, is a lack of transparency from the University in its analysis of her data.
UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon declined to comment on who or what organization is conducting the outside review of Willingham’s research.
Willingham said she has no intention of making money from a potential lawsuit and would donate any toward literacy programs.
She spoke at a seminar Monday on college athletics. After showing a short clip from the 2013 documentary Schooled: The Price of College Sports, Willingham shared her journey from reading specialist to whistleblower, and discussed solutions to reforming college athletics.
“It looks like we’re going to have to use litigation and legislation to fix this problem,” she said.
Willingham said she showed her 2009 thesis on academics and athletics to the late UNC system president Bill Friday, who she says was impressed.
“He at the ripe old age of 91 called me and he had a chat with me about it,” she said.
Sophomore Vincent Perino helped organize the event and said he came away with a better understanding of the athletic scandal and how the NCAA is structured.
“I think that all the data from the original report should be made public, so there can’t be any issue over whose analysis is correct or not,” he said.
“The methodology can be out in the open. Also I think we should examine how integral are athletics to the model of a university designed for research and education, and does this model need to change, or be completely separated, or be completely overhauled.”
Sophomore Eric Barefoot, who attended the seminar, said he thinks UNC needs to be honest about the facts.
“Regardless of what side is picked, you know, the whole point needs to be transparency, and that’s something we lack in our government and something that we lack in our education system,” Barefoot said.
Willingham said she is still trying to understand the process of analysis conducted by UNC. Dean mentioned at a January Faculty Council meeting that he had a team of four researchers who spent 200 hours analyzing the data.
“I think a really interesting question for them is what did they do during those 200 hours? What did they do, because they still don’t have access to the raw scores that point to the grade levels,” she said.
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