UNC board suspends whistleblower's research


Mary Willingham claims that dozens of Carolina student-athletes read at elementary and middle school levels. The UNC learning specialist also has said only 10 percent of the athletes she screened were "functionally literate" and 39 percent were learning disabled.

On Thursday night, the university's Institutional Review Board said it has suspended Willingham's research privileges.

"Review and approval must be obtained before the research can begin," the school said in a statement.

They have determined that the work Willingham provided to the board in 2008 and in 2013 was not human subjects research. Because of that, Willingham was not allowed to identify subjects beyond the firewall of the research team.

In a letter to Willingham, the board said that she must submit an application for review and that continued use of her data would violate university polices.

The same day it suspended Willingham's research, the school also addressed the allegations. The school said that after analyzing the reading skills of its student-athletes, 97 percent are college-literate.

Meanwhile, former football player Michael Mcadoo called the academic environment for athletes at UNC "a scam," in a recent interview with a local newspaper.

Chancellor Carol Folt sent out an e-mail to the campus community addressing reports about student literacy. Folt says she is taking the "claims very seriously."

On Friday, direct and sometimes emotional UNC campus leaders faced a crowd of faculty somewhat divided on where they stand on the recent allegations.

Jay Smith, Willingham's co-investigator, defended her at the meeting. However, UNC maintains Willingham's data analysis was severely flawed pointing out distinct differences between standard reading test scores and grade equivalents.

UNC leaders are emphatically denying that Willingham's research privileges were suspended to silence her. They say there are concerns student identities could be revealed.

"We try to keep this impersonal as much as we can...it's not about attacking people who are in good faith trying to change things," said Folt.

Willingham vows to reapply for her research status.

"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," she said in a statement.

UNC says contrary to some reports it did not have access to Willingham's data subset until this week.

In addition to their internal review of that data, the university is seeking an independent investigation.

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