Mediator to take crack at resolving dispute between UNC, Willingham

Posted January 14, 2015

Mary Willingham

— A lawsuit filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a former academic adviser is headed to mediation.

Mary Willingham, who public criticized the literacy levels of UNC-Chapel Hill athletes amid investigations into academic fraud at the school, filed suit in July, claiming the university retaliated against her for speaking out. She alleged that the terms of her employment were changed in July 2013, including a demoted rank and title and additional job duties that would require "extensive training."

Willingham also claimed that Chancellor Carol Folt, Provost James Dean and Roberta "Bobbi" Owen, former senior associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Arts & Sciences, slandered her by calling her a "liar" and her research into athlete literacy levels a "travesty."

UNC-Chapel Hill lawyers have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, noting that Willingham resigned at the end of the 2013-14 school year and still hasn't completed the university's grievance and appeals process.

Both sides asked a federal judge on Monday to postpone ruling on any motions in the case so they can meet with a mediator on Feb. 9, saying that they have been trying to resolve the dispute without going to trial.

If no agreement is reached, the lawsuit will move forward, the motion states.

Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein released a 131-page report in October detailing his investigation into fraudulent grades and coursework at the university. He found that academic counselors steered student-athletes to "irregular" classes within UNC-Chapel Hill's African and Afro-American Studies Department that had no faculty involvement and never met. The fraud went on for 18 years, ending in 2011, and involved 169 athletes whose grades in such classes kept them eligible to compete in athletics.


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  • Isaac Wallace Jan 15, 2015
    user avatar

    UNC's good ole boys club will fight this even though they have been caught because they can do no wrong. Willingham got forced out for doing her job and telling the truth.The travesty is the lengths that UNC will go to try and cover this up.

  • MaxD Jan 15, 2015

    What is there to mediate? UNC retaliated against her and will lose big time $ in court. The evidence is everywhere. She gonna get paid! #yoloswag

  • scvmcdoc Jan 15, 2015

    UNC needs to take any offer mediated. If this goes to court they are going to lose big money and even more skeletons will come out of the closet. When you are wrong say you are wrong, don't be stupid and double down........

  • Sean Creasy Jan 15, 2015
    user avatar

    What there to mediate? The UNC board was clearly retaliating against her for exposing their dirty little secret. She should be able to sue the pants off them for abusing their power. Furthermore there should be a recall of all of the degrees that were given out when they weren't really earned.

  • Tim Blanchard Jan 15, 2015
    user avatar

    UNC is a disgrace and they doubled down on it in favor of sham classes when they attacked the person who was trying to do the right thing. I still do not know why criminal charges were dropped.

  • 1jalapeno Jan 15, 2015

    Hasn't it been proven that certain UNC administrators knew for years that some athlete/?students were taking sham classes where no meaningful course work was required? Isn't it a fact that Willingham tried to inform other UNC administrators that this was occurring? Didn't in fact UNC administrators try to denigrate and ignore Willingham and her research? Isn't UNC still showing the depth of its "leaders" corruption.