WASHINGTON, January 20, 2014—Mary Willingham, the North Carolina reading specialist turned whistle blower, has been blocked by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from discussing or using the data that she has accumulated, reportedly at the prior request of the University.
The conflict between Willingham and Chapel Hill started when the reading specialist told CNN that as a graduate student at UNC, Greensboro she worked with Chapel Hill basketball and football players and found that ten percent read below a third grade level. She further incensed Chapel Hill by relaying a story about one athlete who was actually illiterate and another who asked her to teach him to read well enough to read about himself in the news.
The university released the following statement via Associated Press:
The school has notified Willingham that she can’t continue to use data with information that could identify the subjects until she applies to the university’s Institutional Review Board that governs human research. Researchers don’t require board approval for research if it doesn’t include identifiable information on the subjects, the school pointed out in the statement.
In an email to The Associated Press Thursday night, Willingham said she’ll go through the board’s application process.
“The gap in academic preparedness between profit sport athletes and students at NCAA (Division I) institutions perpetuates educational inequality,” Willingham said. “Until we acknowledge the problem, and fix it, many of our athletes, specifically men’s basketball and football players are getting nothing in exchange for their special talents.”
Willingham was reportedly also responsible for exposing a no-show for credit scandal in the African-American department involving hundreds of students, half of whom were athletes, at the university in 2010.
The University of North Carolina is not the only school that has different admission criteria for student athletes verses regular students.
This past November, the highly competitive University of California, Berkeley admitted that they admit students with shockingly low grades and scores if they show exceptional abilities in money-making athletics such as basketball and football.
Although Berkeley often will not accept a non-athlete with straight A’s coming out of high school, student athletes are accepted with a C average.
The disparity does not end with admission statistics. UC Berkeley averages an 88 percent graduation rate for its male traditional students but only a 55 percent rate for male student athletes.
At the time of acceptance, being a student athlete seems like an answer to prayers, but with only one percent of college athletes ever playing their sport professionally, it is actually a disservice.
How is a young adult who is only able to read on a third grade level ever going to get and keep a job?
Even those who reach graduation legitimately along with the non-athletes find themselves at a disadvantage after they leave the university.
Going to college in no longer enough to guarantee employment. In October 2012, 66.2 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in a college or university program. These large numbers have forced universities to develop creative career preparation programs to court students to attend one school over another such as internship and study abroad programs but the athletes are unable to participate in any of these programs due to their practice, conditioning and game schedules.
The student athlete is graduating without connections or job experience and with resumes consisting purely of the sports they have played.
The parent of a Division I swimmer reported to Communities Digital News, that her son wanted to go to graduate school but would not qualify because his grades suffered from the requirement to be in the water practicing 35 hours a week. Hours which equal a full time job in addition to his academic schedule, and that is for a non revenue producing athlete.
Admitting students who are unprepared for college and silencing anyone who bring the information to light does not actually do anything to eliminate the problem.
After Willingham’s interview, CNN independently investigated student athletes SAT and ACT scores. Where a SAT score of 400 in reading is considered college-literate, CNN found many athletes scoring in the 200s which would equate to an elementary ready level. They also found athletes scoring in the single digits when the national average is 20.
The Drake Group, a group who fights for academic equality in colligate sports, is currently fighting for a College Protection Act which would not allow an athlete to participate in sports if that student is performing at one full standard deviation below the average student admitted to that particular university or college.
Many believe that college sports make too much money that the schools have become completely dependent on to ever make changes even if those changes would be for the benefit of their students.