Mary Willingham holds first signing event for UNC academic scandal book

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The former UNC-Chapel Hill academic adviser who publicly criticized the reading levels of student athletes said she hopes to eventually return to UNC. (WTV)

The former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill academic adviser who publicly criticized the reading levels of student athletes said she hopes to eventually return to the university.

Mary Willingham held her first book signing Thursday night at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh following the release of "Cheated: The UNC Scandal, The Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports," which gives a detailed account of years of alleged academic fraud in UNC's athletic department.

Willingham and her co-author, UNC professor Jay Smith, spoke to a packed bookstore, hoping to continue the conversation about the scandal that rocked the university.

"We've got a lot of haters. There are still a lot of fans who aren't fans of ours," admitted Willingham. "The more I wrote, and the more I read and now see what's happening and what people are talking about nationally, the more I realize we probably need a disconnect and provide our athletes with compensation and benefits and talk about the education in realistic terms."

Willingham filed suit against UNC claiming she was retaliated against for speaking out. She will receive a $335,000 settlement from the school which includes money to cover attorney fees and back pay.

"I can move forward. It gives me a little bit of flexibility. It gives me the possibility to get a job," said Willingham.

Willingham is currently working on a free literacy program for middle and high school athletes across the country.

While a spokesperson for UNC says the university has no plans to give Willingham her job back, she said she is not ruling out the possibility.

"I have my own hopes and dreams, and I'm a Tar Heel, and someday I truly believe that Carolina is going to recognize me as one of their own and as someone who made a difference and stuck up for what is right," said Willingham. "I think we're in a good place right now and I think the tide is turning in our favor that we're going to be able to make some real change for our athletes."

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