UNC-Chapel Hill, former adviser Willingham settle lawsuit
Posted February 24, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has settled a lawsuit by a former academic adviser who spoke out against lax academic standards for student-athletes.
Terms of the settlement between the school and Mary Willingham, which a mediator helped broker, weren't disclosed. The deal still must be approved by a federal judge.
"We believe the settlement is in the best interest of the University and allows us to move forward and fully focus on other important issues," Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications and Public Affairs Rick White said in a statement.
Willingham, who publicly 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."
She 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 argued that Willingham resigned at the end of the 2013-14 school year and never completed the university's grievance and appeals process, so her suit should be thrown out.
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.