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UNC Presses Attack on Whistle-Blower in Fake Classes Scandal

An aerial view of the University of North Carolina campus and surrounding area on April 21, 2013 in Chapel Hill
An aerial view of the University of North Carolina campus and surrounding area on April 21, 2013 in Chapel HillPhotograph by Lance King/Getty Images

With the $16 billion college sports industry under siege from lawsuits and player-unionization efforts, one academic scandal—at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina—has come to represent key aspects of the debate about Division 1 football and basketball players. In response, UNC’s top leadership continues to try to deflect attention from widespread classroom misconduct by attacking the low-ranking staff tutor who helped reveal the scandal.

In 2011 the tutor, Mary Willingham, gave crucial assistance to Dan Kane, an intrepid reporter with the Raleigh News & Observer who uncovered the long-standing practice by academic advisers at Chapel Hill of steering basketball and football players into fake classes offered by the school’s black-studies department. The department pretended to offer lecture courses, but the classes never met. Students received A and B grades for submitting a single paper, which they often cobbled together from material copied from the Internet, according to Willingham.