We all know how the system works. Colleges with competitive sports programs recruit top high school athletes, offering the cream of the crop full scholarships. And that’s where the “aid” stops. The NCAA will swear to that on a stack of freshman comp books. Varsity athletes are expected to make the grade in class, or they’re out.
While athletes are not allowed to receive special help with their courses, there is a tacit understanding that the faculty will keep mum about their academic performance.
Now one counselor at University of North Carolina has gone outside the “code” and is paying the price. According to the Associated Press via the Huffington Post, Mary Willingham, who works in the school’s Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, has gone public with the less-than-stellar reading scores of students who compete on the vaunted football and basketball teams. And she has received death threats for her trouble.
Willingham said her research of 183 football or basketball players at UNC from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level. She said she worked with one men's basketball player early in her 10-year tenure who couldn't read or write.
Willingham has said in interviews that she has received death threats and hate mail for outing the athletes. Both claims are currently under investigation by UNC police.
Lissa Lamkin Broome, a banking law professor and UNC's faculty athletic representative, said that Willingham had shared her findings previously but hasn't provided data to support her conclusions. Said Broome:
If Mary's data uncovers issues that would be helpful to us in our admissions process or in our academic support process, then I want to know about those so we can benefit from whatever work she has done ... in moving forward and doing things better.
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