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UNC stops research of academic whistleblower Mary Willingham

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

UNC has halted the research of reading specialist Mary Willingham.  (USATSI)
UNC has halted the research of reading specialist Mary Willingham. (USATSI)

The University of North Carolina has suspended the research of Mary Willingham, the reading specialist who turned over information on student-athletes and academic progress for a CNN report last week.

Willingham's research indicated that many football and basketball players at North Carolina are reading well below grade level -- Willingham claims 60 percent of the 183 student-athletes she worked with from 2004-12 were reading at fourth-to-eighth-grade levels -- and the reading specialist believes that the issues are not limited to UNC, but systemic across all of Division I athletics.

North Carolina and head basketball coach Roy Williams have disputed Willingham's claims, and on Thursday night the school shut down her research until the university's Institutional Review Board approves the work.

via the Associated Press:

The school said in a statement Thursday evening it has notified Willingham that she can't continue to use data with information that could identify the subjects until she applies to the university's Institutional Review Board that governs human research. Researchers don't require board approval for research if it doesn't include identifiable information on the subjects, the school pointed out in the statement.

In an email to The Associated Press Thursday night, Willingham said she'll go through the board's application process.

"The gap in academic preparedness between profit sport athletes and students at NCAA (Division I) institutions perpetuates educational inequality," Willingham said. "Until we acknowledge the problem, and fix it, many of our athletes, specifically men's basketball and football players are getting nothing in exchange for their special talents."

After her work in the CNN report led to death threats and headlines across the nation, Mary Willingham filed a brief in support of the athletes suing the NCAA (Ed O'Bannon case) in Oakland, Calif.. Willingham, who worked in the UNC Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, believes that many revenue sport athletes are not getting an eduction, and therefore not receiving the "real cost of attendance."

"(I was) waiting for the university to do the right thing, and they still haven't done the right thing," Willingham told WRAL News on Wednesday.

Chancellor Carol Folt sent an open letter to the UNC community on Thursday, promising to investigate Willingham's claims but adding that the school is "unable to reconcile these claims with either our own facts."

"Nevertheless, we are investigating all the claims being made and, if they are found to have merit, I will take all appropriate actions," Folt said. "We also will do our best to correct assertions we believe are not based in fact."

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