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.
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— 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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  • borealbob1952 Jan 16, 2014

    ...and the obfuscation and denial begins. Universities never admit wrongdoing. They create a facade of plausible deniability and work on the principle that today's headlines wrap tomorrows fish. Ignore it- and eventually it will go away. As long as money is on the table- lots of money- don't expect anything to change- universities are businesses.

  • jbboone Jan 16, 2014

    I think the chancellor is late to the party...along with Tom Ross. We all know that basketball drives the bus at UNC. If evidence was found in Julius Pepper's transcripts I guarantee you that other basketball players also have questionable transcripts which would include the 2005 and 2009 banner years.

  • JustaCitizen Jan 16, 2014

    The really sad part is not that UNC has this problem, but these students were graduated from their respective high schools with these deficiencies. Go after the university, but look to the root of the problem and you will see it starts on the local school level.

  • Dr Sanchez Jan 16, 2014

    The best thing Chancellor Folt can do is open up the files and get rid of the dirty laundry before her tenure of leadership starts going. Although, I am sure the Trustees and President Ross are probably telling her no, no, no.

  • ncprr1 Jan 16, 2014

    Sure "Sherlock" Folt will figure it all out. Anyone with an half an once of intelligence and the slightest bit of common sense knows exactly what was going on, and not just at UNC.

  • JohnnyWalker Jan 16, 2014

    So from 2010-2013 they were "reviews". Now they're referred to as "investigations". Hmm... and the data presented by the media doesn't match the data gathered by the University. The University that's been cheating, lying and denying for the past 35 years. Hmm...

  • BCampbell Jan 16, 2014

    "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."

    Which sports were those two? How about the prior ten years....ya know, the ones where UNC wasn't subject to extra scrutiny?

  • packalum09 Jan 16, 2014

    It's not just at UNC...I don't believe that there is a single program, a single university that is "clean." The problem for UNC is that in my opinion, they've got a mole amongst them. They may need to clean house.

  • GK N.Ral Jan 16, 2014

    Does UNC have a chancellor? We do not hear anything from her about anything. Does she have her head buried in the sand, hoping that all this goes away? Looks like UNC made a poor choice. UNC needs someone who can make some immediate changes. Someone who can get UNC headed on a new course.

  • ggallagher5 Jan 16, 2014

    It's about time that's UnC and the Chancellor take this matter seriously. No more. Head in the sand administration!