North Carolina

Willingham: Lack of educating student-athletes needs to change

Posted January 16, 2014

Mary Willingham, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill adviser who claimed the UNC system is failing to help student-athletes receive an education, said Thursday that she believes the same thing happens at universities all over the country and is advocating for change.

“You have to have a system of eligibility. If you have a bunch of players that can’t do that work, you have to somehow get them eligible,” said Willingham told Adam Gold and Joe Ovies on 99.9FM The Fan Thursday.

Willingham called the system of eligibility at North Carolina ‘paper classes’ where student-athletes did not have to attend class.

The adviser said she has received nearly a thousand emails from people confessing that they know about these systems and are aware about them happening at their own schools.

“We need to stop it. It needs to end because, bottom line, these young men that entertain us on game day are not getting what we’re promising them – a real education. And that should make all of us very, very angry,” Willingham said.

Willingham said she hopes people will step up and feel comfortable about doing it, but the real change may not occur without the voice of the former student-athletes themselves.

“We’re fighting a multi-million dollar machine – the NCAA. And people are afraid,” said Willingham. “Maybe [athletes will] stand up themselves or maybe they’ll sit down on the hardwood floor and say, ‘We’re not going to take this anymore. Enough already.’

“I’d like the think that we’re smart enough in this country to try and figure out how to do the right thing for these young people… maybe it’s going to be some sort of change in the system completely,” she said.

Willingham said she does not have the answers for the big picture but knows that at North Carolina it’s to teach the young players literacy skills and how to be successful in the classroom as well as on the field.

“That’s what we’re promising them, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Willingham.

Willingham works in the UNC Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. From 2003 to 2010, she helped athletes in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. During the course of her work, both as a UNC graduate student and employee, Willingham researched how university admission standards are applied to athletes in the high-profile, revenue-driving sports of men's football and basketball and found that that 60 percent of the 183 athletes she studied read at a level more common in elementary school and up to 10 percent had the reading skills of a third grader.

Willingham said that she has never been contacted by the NCAA to share her findings even though she presented them to the general counsel in 2010, Governor Martin in 2012 and the provost Dean when he arrived last summer.

“Because I know too much. What are they going to do with me when I show them my data, when I tell them the truth, shut the whole thing down?” Willingham questioned.


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  • vply2000 Jan 18, 2014


    At the faculty council meeting Friday, UNC Provost Jim Dean said News & Observer staff writer Dan Kane misquoted him in a story on the controversy in Saturday’s paper. He also said that Kane did not respond to his request for a correction.

    After the meeting, Dean admitted that no one at UNC contacted The N&O to seek a correction. He apologized to Kane and also said UNC would issue a statement to the media reflecting that.

    Dean said that he was misquoted when The N&O reported that Dean thinks the scandal was not about athletics because nonathletes made up 55 percent of the total enrollments. Kane’s notes of the interview reflect Dean noting that most of the students who benefited were nonathletes.

    Dean said Friday that his position is this: “We did not have any evidence that these courses were initiated in order to benefit athletes. ... I didn’t even say that they weren’t. I said we don’t have any evidence that’s true.”

    Read more here:

  • Objective Scientist Jan 18, 2014

    Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults: The SATA Test that is "at issue". The test to which Willingham refers that UNC administrators "dispute" as a measure of reading and academic preparedness:

    Ages: 16 through 70
    Testing Time: 1 to 2 hours
    Administration: Individual or group
    The SATA measures the scholastic competence of persons from the ages of 16 through 70. Subtest raw scores are converted to estimated grade equivalents, standard scores (M = 10, SD = 3), and percentiles. The SATA's aptitude and achievement components can provide an aptitude-achievement discrepancy analysis needed for LD placement. The SATA was normed on 1,005 persons residing in 17 states, and the sample is representative of the nation as a whole with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, urban/rural residence, and geographic region. The SATA is technically sound, with reliabilities generally in the .80s and .90s. Reliabilities of that magnitude are generally regarded as "Very good - Excellent".

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