UNC-CH: Our data disputes claims about athlete reading levels

Posted January 16, 2014
Updated January 17, 2014

The UNC Board of Governors named Carol Folt, provost and interim president of Dartmouth College, as UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor on April 12, 2013.

— Chancellor Carol Folt said Thursday that she is investigating claims that some student-athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill read at grade-school level and called the latest controversy part of UNC’s “painful journey” in addressing the academic preparation of athletes.

“Carolina’s recent academic and athletic improprieties shook our university to its core. In spite of seven investigations and numerous reforms already in place, this continues to be a painful journey for the Carolina community, and I will not ignore the lessons learned,” she wrote.

Folt’s remarks came in an open letter addressed to the “Carolina community” that was posted on the school’s website Thursday morning and distributed by email. It the first time the chancellor has commented since a story aired on CNN last week that highlighted the poor reading levels of student-athletes who attended UNC between 2004 and 2012.

In an effort to refute data compiled by UNC adviser Mary Willingham and shared with CNN, the university’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions released findings that all 154 student-athletes admitted under a "special talent" waiver who enrolled in fall 2013 had reading skills that met the threshold CNN set for being “college-literate.”

In its report, CNN did not use SAT or ACT scores but rather a custom calculation to come to the conclusion that UNC athletes in revenue sports had sub-standard reading skills.

In an interview with WRAL News Wednesday, Willingham said the data she shared with CNN was available to UNC administrators but that they simply didn't look at it. 

"(I was) waiting for the university to do the right thing, and they still haven’t done the right thing,” Willingham said.

In her letter, Folt did not name Willingham but said the university is continuing to investigate what has been publicized in recent media reports.

“…we have been unable to reconcile these claims with either our own facts or with those data currently being cited as the source for the claims. Moreover, the data presented in the media does not match up with those data gathered by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions,” she said in the letter.

Citing an example, Folt said only two of 321 student-athletes admitted in 2012 and 2013 fell below the SAT and ACT levels cited in the CNN report.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions also published these findings:

  • Between 2004 and 2012, the same time period examined by CNN, UNC-Chapel Hill enrolled 1,377 first-year student-athletes through the special-talent policies and procedures. More than 97 percent (1,338) of those students met the CNN threshold. Thirty-nine students (2.83 percent) did not meet the threshold.
  • Of the 34 students recruited for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball who did not meet the threshold, 20 students (59 percent) either have graduated from the University or remain enrolled and in good academic standing. Another 10 students (29 percent) left the University academically eligible to return. The other four students left the University and would have to restore their academic eligibility in order to return.

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  • uBnice Jan 17, 2014

    UNC's faculty reported there are two cultures on campus, academic and athletic. There can be only one!

    The head football coach at UNC is payed nearly 3 times more than the Chancellor. Even though the Chancellor has over 30 years in academia and is boss over 26,000+ students and over 3200 faculty, a guy who oversees maybe 100 young men and a few staff is payed 3 times more than the Chancellor. A meeting between the two is not a meeting between equals...with the Coach probably thinking "How dare her!".

    Assistant coaches are payed more than endowed professors.

    There are two cultures in D1 athletic schools and only the Chancellor/Presidents can really change it. But we know that will not happen. Just witness Thorp asking to hand the responsibility of managing athletics to someone else.

  • uBnice Jan 17, 2014

    The only thing the Chancellor has to do is to call in the Head of Admissions and give the directive that no unqualified athlete will be admitted.

    But then UNC would not get talent like Julius Peppers who should never have been admitted into UNC. However, plenty of other schools, UNC direct competitors, would have admitted Peppers.

    Admissions hands unqualified athletes to the faculty, the faculty do not ask for them.

    The Chancellor could end that today. Where is the leadership? The integrity? The ethics? The cohones!!!

  • Six String Jan 17, 2014

    In my previous comment, I meant "standing along without explanation". Thanks to NMBLACKM for illustrating and making my point.

  • nmblackm Jan 17, 2014

    Both parties (Willingham & the "official" stmts from UNC) can be statistically right... It depends on what question you are trying to answer from the statistics. Willingham correctly pointed out that the current TOP athletes in F'ball & MEN's Basketball include many low (3rd grade or below) readers. Although she is right, the UNC Admin. waters down the stats by adding the entire women's Basketball team (not generally the top income source, so don't ignore academics there) and only using the past 2 years recruiting (AFTER the F'ball scandal broke, & more care was applied in recruiting). When Dr. Foyt says 97% of student athletes from 2004-recent, she includes tens of thousands of UNC Students who also play athletics (male & female swimming, soccer, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, etc...), the great majority of which get NO exception to UNC's stringent academic requirements. Willingham wants to right a wrong to UNC's top "scholar"-athletes... UNC wants to clear it's name.

  • jmcdow2792 Jan 17, 2014

    Are we talking apples and oranges here? Willingham was looking at only football and basketball. The data being quoted to refute her claims appears to be for the entire student athlete population.

  • Six String Jan 17, 2014

    What kind of data does UNC have that disputes Willingham's research? Double blind study or similar, or grades and graduation rates. The comment, standing alone with explanation, means nothing. More PR and denial.

  • Obamacare prevails again Jan 17, 2014

    Clearly UNC-CH doesn't care about its student athletes if they are taking this stance. Makes you wonder if they value anyone on that campus over the almighty dollar.

  • DoingMyBest Jan 17, 2014

    "Brilliant idea. Which school is going to step up to bat first and start doing this?" ALANON

    It is a mute point if it is a rule. Then everyone would by default step up.

  • huxter72 Jan 17, 2014

    I don't know when anybody is going to get it. These athletes, not just at UNC, can't even put together a complete sentence half the time, so don't tell me you don't have exceptions all over the place that can't read and write. Ms. Folt, Roy Williams, Larry Fedora, don't give a rat's behind whether a baller can exceed academically just as long as they can dunk, run, and tackle, that's all they need to know, along with the money they can bring in. Nobody cares.

  • MaxD Jan 17, 2014

    cheaters never win