North Carolina Suspends Internal Research That Made Their Athletes Look Bad

UNC-Chapel Hill is trying to disqualify research by one of their own employees, after results she shared with CNN embarrassed the school and its athletes.

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UNC-Chapel Hill is trying to disqualify research by one of their own employee, after results she shared with CNN embarrassed the school and is athletes. Internal research conducted by Mary Willingham, a former specialist in the athlete tutoring program, found that 60 percent of the 183 football and basketball players she studied were reading somewhere between a fourth and eighth grade level. The school's research review board has now "suspended" her work on a technicality ... one that might be their fault. 

The university is suspending the findings because it claims that the data and information Willingham made public, could be used to identify the individual athletes, which is a violation of standard research protocols.

The school is also suspending the researcher from continuing to study the low literacy levels of athletes at the university. However, it's possible that the only reason that protocol was violated, was because the UNC provost demanded that Willingham turn over her data and findings to his office. She had previously stated she didn't want to give up that information, specifically because it might violate the rules.

Her collaborator on the research project, Richard Southall, said he doesn't know when the violation allegedly occurred and it could have been when the info was given to the provost.

Willingham unleashed a bombshell earlier this month after she reported that of the 183 athletes in revenue-generating sports (football and basketball) admitted to UNC between 2004 and 2012, 60 percent were reading between the fourth and eighth grade reading levels.  And between 8 and 10 percent were reading below a third grade level. A CNN story based in part on her findings was such a black eye for the athletic department that she received death threats from angry fans.

Provost Jim Dean explained the decision to suspend the research.

[Willingham] did not have the authority to use identifiable data because to do so would have required (review board) ... approval, which she did not have." 

"Suspending" the research makes it sound like there was something shady going on or that Willingham's research was incorrect, even though Willingham and CNN said she had shared the information with the university and they knew what she was doing. Willingham has also said that the data she found was actually part of a bigger study paid for by the university. "It's already available to them," Willingham told CNN. "It's in their system. ... They have all the data and more. It belongs to them, and they paid a lot of money for it."

Willingham told the Associated Press that she would go through the application process with the board. "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 added.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.