Academic adviser Mary Willingham to leave UNC-Chapel Hill

Posted April 21, 2014

Mary Willingham has worked with student athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 2003.

— Mary Willingham, an academic adviser at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she will leave the university after finishing her classes this semester.

Willingham was the subject of national media attention after she questioned the literacy level of athletes who were admitted to the school. She said that most of the 183 basketball and football players she reviewed from 2004 to 2012 read at an eighth-grade level or below.

A school spokeswoman said Willingham had a private meeting with UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt on Monday and told her that she planned to take time off. The university was not aware that she was quitting, the spokeswoman said.

Willingham's data was featured in reports on CNN, ESPN and HBO in recent months. In its report, CNN didn't use SAT or ACT scores but rather a custom calculation to measure the reading skills of the student-athletes.

UNC-Chapel Hill officials rebutted Willingham's claims in January, saying that an internal review found that more than 97 percent of the first-year student-athletes enrolled between 2004 and 2012 exceeded CNN's threshold. The majority of those who didn't eventually graduated, officials said.

The school later asked researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Minnesota and Georgia State University to analyze the data independently, and UNC-Chapel Hill administrators said that their findings back up the the stance that the majority of the school's student-athletes "scored at or above college entry level on the SATA Reading Vocabulary subtest."

SATA, the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults, was given to some student-athletes shortly after arriving on campus as part of a screening process to identify possible learning differences or learning disabilities.

The researchers said the test shouldn't be used to draw conclusions about overall reading ability.

Willingham has said she stands by her research.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • CHAMPS 17 09 05 93 82 57 24 Apr 25, 2014

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    You can't argue with ignorant people like this one. NCSU admits student-athletes with lower credentials than UNC and it is well documented.

  • JDT0827 Apr 22, 2014

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    All athletes admitted have to pass not only the NCAA clearinghouse, but also the ACC standards which are slightly more stringent (not much, i think a couple extra credits is all), then they can be admitted. The same process NCSU follows to a T. Try again.

  • lazydawg58 Apr 22, 2014

    All students should be admitted based on the same academic standards regardless of their athletic prowess. The only problem with that would be that instead of UNC-CH, NCSU and Duke being the top academic institutions and sports teams in the area it would be NCCU, Wake Tech, Fayetteville State and Louisburg. That is intended as no disrespect to any of the schools. They are fine institutions but you don't have to finish in the top 10% of your graduating class and score 13-16000 on your SATs to get in.

  • itsnotmeiswear Apr 22, 2014

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    Willingham wrote a paper while at UNC-G that detailed the problem of exceptions at a number of D-1 schools including NC State. You can find it using a standard search engine. The problem with what she did at UNC was that she changed the standard interpretation of the test results to support her own agenda. When she crossed that line, it ceased to be about academic integrity and more about her own self promotion.

  • Terry Watts Apr 22, 2014
    user avatar

    Much to the relief on Tarheels everywhere, the one person pointing out their immoral behavior has decided to move on... The immorality can now continue... Let the money flow!!!

  • ospreysilver Apr 22, 2014

    What is the story again? Jocks aren't smart. I guess next she is going to prove that the Miss America pageant is really just a beauty pageant vs. a scholarship just because pretty girls have consistently won forever. What did she think would happen, that every university in the country would start only allowing players with 1,250 on their SAT's play, it would be like watching the revenge of the nerds.

  • Adul Siler Apr 22, 2014
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    Most likely was paid to leave or would be forced out. Her information is true. Some of those players are dumber than a door nail and need constant assistance to stay eligible. It's a shame that people support the problem instead of a solution for the problem. Won't be long before they get caught again since the athletic advisor department has a new building to work their deeds out of. The problem has always been recruiting players that barely pass high school and giving them waivers and support to get them into college when they should be at some community college. It's all about money and that is what UNC makes in athletics.

  • Eq Videri Apr 22, 2014
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    When Carolina defenders object that UNC has done nothing worse than any other major college sports program, they miss an essential point, which is part of what rankles its rivals: Forever, Carolina has held itself up as better than most -- the vaunted "Carolina Way."

    But they have failed to live up to that self-celebrated standard -- and slow to acknowledge that failure -- so they've been hoist by their own petard, to the delight of their critics.

    The only antidote to arrogance is humility, which remains in short supply in Chapel Hill.

    Chancellor Folt and the trustees can turn that around. Will they? We shall see.

  • Thomas Williams Apr 22, 2014
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    Stir the pot, and then bail out.

  • janunit Apr 22, 2014

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    The NCAA came and went, but you can keep hoping.