UNC-CH board gets updates on student-athlete reading skills, data breach
Posted January 22, 2014
Chapel Hill, N.C. — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill trustees heard Thursday about two controversies that have roiled the campus in recent weeks: the reading skills of student-athletes and the online disclosure of personal information of about 6,000 people.
Two weeks ago, Mary Willingham, who worked in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes from 2003 to 2010, told CNN that 60 percent of 183 football and basketball players she studied at UNC-Chapel Hill read at a level more common in elementary school, including up to 10 percent who had the reading skills of a third-grader.
UNC-Chapel Hill officials say Willingham's research was flawed and maintain that 97 percent of the school's student-athletes between 2004 and 2012 met the threshold for being "college literate."
Jan Boxill, faculty chairwoman at UNC-Chapel Hill, told trustees Thursday that student-athletes don't get a free pass in courses. Still, she said, some football and basketball players need extra help once they arrive on campus to get up to speed.
"There are probably people who are less well prepared in various ways as they come to the university, but we do provide resources for them," Boxill said. "Do some fall through the cracks? That's always difficult."
The university has made a lot of changes in recent years when it comes to athletics and academics, she said, and she believes the school is headed in the right direction.
"We want the same commitment to them that we have with all our students," Provost James Dean said. "We want them to have a successful academic experience and a successful life, and the vast majority of them in fact do. But we could always do better."
University officials also clarified Willingham's research status. Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill reportedly suspended her research privileges, but officials with the school's Institutional Review Board now say that she never had approval for her research.
If she wants to continue her research, officials said, she must apply for and obtain the proper approval.
Data breach 'honest mistake'
The Board of Trustees also heard from Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Chris Kielt on a data breach last fall. Some electronic files in the Division of Finance and Administration became accessible on the Internet, disclosing the names and Social Security or Employee Tax Identification numbers, and in some cases, addresses and dates of birth, of current and former employees, vendors and students.
Kielt called the breach "an honest mistake," saying that workers didn't know the data was on a server. Still, he called for increased IT security at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"We are in the business of preserving information," he said. "There has to be a balance between making sure that data is properly kept but making sure it’s only available appropriately."
Charles Streeter, chairman of the Employee Forum, sharply criticized the way the university handled the breach, saying officials waited weeks before notifying employees that their personal information had been compromised.
Chancellor Carol Folt assured trustees that there was no evidence that anyone's information has been used improperly. The university has offered to provide free credit monitoring to affected people for the next year, but some staffers have launched a petition demanding that more be done.