Scandal Bowl: UNC Suspends Research by Academic Fraud Whistle-Blower

Updates with comment from UNC administration and student government.

The most outrageous scandal infecting the business of big-time college sports just took a turn for the much worse. The University of North Carolina, famed for its outstanding academics and championship-winning basketball team, announced late Thursday that it had suspended research on athlete literacy by Mary Willingham.

A campus tutor employed by the university, Willingham has done more than anyone else to shed light on classroom corruption at Chapel Hill related to keeping sports stars eligible to play. The shadow cast on her research speaks volumes about the university’s unwillingness to come to terms with the undermining of academic standards in the service of athletics.

The overall situation at North Carolina is complicated. For background, read this profile of Willingham I wrote recently. Then read this piece on why the Tar Heel scandal represents a much broader problem with the failure of academics throughout Division 1 sports powers.

Then read the latest dispatch from Dan Kane of the Raleigh News & Observer. Kane has doggedly tracked the UNC scandal for years. He ably explains how Willingham is being punished for telling the truth—that a significant number of top college athletes are not receiving the decent educations they are promised in exchange for their labors on the basketball court or football field.

It is way past time for the academic leaders at Chapel Hill to stop stonewalling, cease their persecution of Willingham, and come clean about the intellectual cancer afflicting their much-honored campus.

In written statements both the university and its student government have lashed out at Willingham. Here’s the university statement and here’s the student government’s.

NOTE: Since my last post on the UNC scandal, I’ve learned that Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg L.P., which owns Bloomberg Businessweek, is a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sits on its Foundation Board and the UNC Global Research Institute Board, and is Chair Emeritus of the External Advisory Board of the Undergraduate Honors Program and the Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

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