Federal investigators meet with UNC whistleblower Mary Willingham

Student athlete group's Title IX complaint on federal agency radar.
May 12, 2014 4:15:35 PM PDT
A national student athlete advocacy group says its Title IX complaint filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has the attention of federal investigators with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

"The OCR has acknowledged our complaint," said SAHRP coordinator Emmett Gill. "We've had one conversation, the OCR requested additional data, and we have forwarded that data to the OCR."

The Office for Civil Rights also requested a meeting with former UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham.

"They are interested," Mary Willingham said after a meeting last Friday in Washington, D.C. where she attended a hearing focused on the unionization of college sports.

Willingham has alleged she's worked with UNC student athletes who were either functionally illiterate or failed to read or write at the college level.

After Willingham's public claims, The Student Athlete Human Rights Project filed its complaint in April, alleging UNC discriminated against black and male students enrolled in the so-called "paper classes." They claim a disproportionate number of male and black students were enrolled in the fraudulent classes.

Gill said the federal agency has yet to decide whether to launch a full investigation of the Title IX and VI complaint.

There's concern whether the complaint met the Office for Civil Rights statute of limitations.

All complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. UNC's critics claim the bogus classes date as far back as the late 90's. The questionable courses were eliminated in the Summer of 2012 following an internal investigation.

Since its initial contact with investigators, SAHRP has revised its original complaint.

It now claims its review of student data shows black male student athletes were funneled into two majors - exercise sports science and communications. The group also told federal investigators 45% of student athletes in revenue-generating sports did not have a declared major.

The Office for Civil Rights will neither confirm nor deny it is reviewing the group's complaint.

A UNC spokesperson said the Office for Civil Rights has not contacted the University.  


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