Chapel Hill, NC, United States (4E Sports) – UNC-Chapel Hill announced that it has suspended whistle-blower Mary Willingham’s work on the literacy levels of university athletes after she made the report public last week.
According to the university, its institutional review board, which governs research projects, found that Willingham had released data that could potentially identify research subjects.
Willingham’s research revealed that more than half of 183 athletes screened for their reading skills over an eight-year period could not read beyond the eighth-grade level.
She based the report on tests that university administered to athletes admitted despite concerns they might be academically challenged. She said roughly 10 percent of those students were functionally illiterate.
The research helped raise concerns about the academic fraud scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill that involved dozens of lecture-style classes that never met. It was publicized on CNN last week.
Willingham, a former learning specialist with the tutoring program for athletes, blew the whistle on those classes to The News & Observer in 2011. Athletes made up nearly half of the enrollments in those classes.
However, university officials disputed the findings and sought to see the data. Earlier this week, Willingham turned over data to Provost Jim Dean, who said he wanted to see it to determine how she arrived at her findings.
“Ms. Willingham had said a number of times that she had identified data, and in fact had shared some pieces of it … in connection with earlier investigations,” Dean said. “The (review board) had decided to look into her case before she finally turned the data set over to me.”
It is unclear whether the suspension would prevent Willingham from discussing the research she has already done.