Joe Ovies

Closing the book on Mary Willingham

Posted August 5, 2014

Mary Willingham

Let's go ahead and put this on the table before discussing anything else. The ongoing story about North Carolina and lecture-style courses that either rarely met or didn't see the inside of a classroom at all should have been wrapped up by now.

Instead of thoroughly investigating the academic issues that were discovered in the wake of an NCAA investigation into the football program in 2010, the university did what most institutions do in these situations. North Carolina tried to box the issue, put a lovely bow on top of it and hope everyone moves on to the next thing. Except that didn't happen. Here we are in the summer of 2014 and waiting for Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor who is working independently from UNC, to deliver what should be the definitive story of how the Department of African and Afro-American Studies became the center of an academic scandal.

Along the way, we've seen different story arcs and a wide array of characters emerge from the fateful day Marvin Austin tweeted Rick Ross rap lyrics. It all plays out like a boring version Marvel's Cinematic Universe without the payoff of "The Avengers." Rather than ridiculous characters like Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon, we're stuck with Mary Willingham and Bradley Bethel playing out some sort of "Guardians of the Academic Galaxy."

In fairness to Willingham, she's long been an outspoken critic of the NCAA. Considering her work with student-athletes, her anecdotal behind the scenes perspective was helpful in counterbalancing the platitudes of amateurism spun by NCAA president Mark Emmert.

It wasn't until CNN morphed Willingham into a whistle-blower that her role in North Carolina's academic scandal became unsuitable for her particular experience. Both Willingham and the university locked horns over the research. It was always going to be an unfair matchup, given the backing of an entire institution versus an individual, but Willingham made it easy for the university to discredit her level of expertise.

Regardless, Willingham started doubling down on Twitter and ESPN's "Outside The Lines" to mixed results while North Carolina hired three outside research experts in an attempt to debunk her conclusions.

Only Willingham knows when the switch flipped to scorched Earth mode from NCAA critic with an eye on reform. On one hand, it was certainly red meat for the folks who took great pleasure and delight in North Carolina's embarrassments. On the other hand, Willingham made it easy for her detractors to question her motives.

If North Carolina's expert review of Willingham's student-athlete reading level research was the first strike against her credibility, she has to sit down following questions over her IRB application and alleged masters thesis plagiarism.

“Academics & Athletics – A Clash of Cultures: Division I Football Programs," completed in 2009, yielded four notably lifted segments after WRAL ran the thesis through four different plagiarism checking websites. Willingham told Dan Kane of the N&O these instances were inadvertent cases of improper citations.

Given North Carolina's piñata status last four years, the folks who feel the university was unfairly hammered thanks to her claims are entirely justified getting their ya ya's out discrediting Wilingham. It's also understandable for the same people to clown any media that simply ran with Willingham as their only source of information.

But keep in mind, North Carolina isn't mired in this mess because of Willingham. UNC did most of it to themselves with countless investigations that did little more than contain it.

“Whatever I did, I did, and, you know, whatever,” Willingham explained to the N&O. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

There's also nothing she can do at this point to regain her credibility.


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  • David McIntee Aug 10, 2014
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    [/b]"There's also nothing she can do at this point to regain her credibility."

    Except if UNC were to ultimately tell the truth.

  • 903 Born To Be Hateddd Aug 6, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Yep, UNC is up there in the Top 10 with all those big-time football SEC schools, UK, and Notre Dame.

    Like the Yankees, Lakers, and Cowboys in pro sports, those teams attract the Wal*Mart/bandwagon/non-affiliated fans...

  • heelsforever Aug 6, 2014

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    I saw that very same information earlier today on a thread and it was pointed out that state does not license through CLC, so probably not a good indicator of how many fans there are. I don't disagree that Carolina has more fans than State, but I'm sure State has more than Wake.

  • 903 Born To Be Hateddd Aug 6, 2014

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    State has an extremely small number of fans compared to UNC. Just look at 2013 merchandise sales. State isn't even in the Top 75... Universities
    (1.) The University of Texas at Austin (2.) The University of Alabama (3.) University of Notre Dame (4.) The University of Michigan (5.) University of Kentucky (6.) Louisiana State University (7.) University of Florida (8.) University of Georgia (9.) University of North Carolina (10.) The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

  • Objective Scientist Aug 6, 2014

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    Heelsforever... I have no issue with you, and it seems we are "on the same page". If it seems otherwise on this matter, perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been. As far as I'm concerned NO ONE has to have a "reason" for why they are a Carolina fan, Duke fan, State fan... or whatever fan. There are lots of decisions in all of our lives for which a reason for our choice may be necessary... that one chooses/decides to be a "fan" of a particular college or pro team in any sport is not a choice/decision that requires a reason. We need not "justify" our choice of teams... school or pro. (Hell... my father was a Duke fan although he never attended a college class anywhere... and then I got 3 degrees from UNC!)

    And - ABSOLUTELY - I've stated this before in WRAL postings - the football/basketball programs and the AFAM Dept are only very small parts of a very large and truly GREAT University. I'll put my degrees up against any others!

  • Jeanne Gunn Aug 6, 2014
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    Well said.

  • Jeanne Gunn Aug 6, 2014
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    Agree, Hammer. I understand graduates may have more "skin in the game", but I thought the term "bandwagon" meant a fan who only supported a team when they were winning.

  • heelsforever Aug 6, 2014

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    I disagree. Many of my friends who are State fans have children following in their foot steps and it's certainly not because State has been tearing it up in any sport over the last 20 years. Dad is a fan, watches the games on TV, takes the kids to the games, buys them t-shirts and all kinds of other team gear. They have the experience of that team growing up and most naturally become fans of the same school.

  • 903 Born To Be Hateddd Aug 6, 2014

    View quoted thread

    That's about what it boils down to... The majority of fans of college teams pick them for the same reason they pull for the Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers... That's why colleges like UNC have more of them than say Wake Forest...

  • heelsforever Aug 6, 2014

    View quoted thread

    OS, my original point was simply about how silly it is to suggest someone has no right to be a fan and express an opinion because they don't have the sheepskin from that school. It's primarily State fans who cling to this ridiculous notion. I grew up in rural eastern NC and I can assure you that a very small percentage of State, Carolina, and to a much greater degree Duke fans didn't go to college at all. Nothing wrong with that IMO. Most of them became fans of those schools because someone of influence during their childhood was a fan of the school; parents, coaches, teachers, uncles, etc.

    I don't disgree that a lot of people at UNC have made some very bad decisions. I also agree that it's embarrassing and must be corrected. However, I absolutely disagree with those who would have us believe that all UNC degrees and programs are worthless due to issues related to AFAM and athletics. I should hope that you do too.




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