More questions are raised by reports from outside experts commissioned by UNC to rebut findings on freshman athlete reading levels
Last week, experts hired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released several reports that rebut allegations made by an athlete tutor, Mary Willingham. In 2011, Willingham provided information to a reporter that alleged that the school created “fake classes” for student athletes that did not require student attendance and only required a short written paper for full credit. The reports focused on Willingham’s claims that many freshmen athletes had low reading proficiency. This article in Bloomberg Businessweek explains why the expert reports are unfair:
Rather than grapple directly with how university employees and instructors launched on this egregious adventure of keeping scholarship athletes academically eligible by means of fraud, UNC’s leadership has gone after Willingham personally. Employing a classic kill-the-messenger playbook, top officials have questioned her credibility and demoted her. On Friday the university reiterated previously raised questions about unpublished research she did on one group of incoming Tar Heel athletes whose reading skills she concluded were nowhere close to college level.
UNC released a trio of reports commissioned from outside experts to rebut Willingham’s findings on freshman athlete reading levels. These experts, UNC said, did not find evidence to support Willingham’s “claims about widespread low literacy levels” among football and basketball recruits who had been screened for learning disabilities. Instead, the outside reviewers “determined that the majority of the students referenced in the public claims scored at or above college entry level” on the reading vocabulary test Willingham used.
When I interviewed Willingham, she stood behind her work and said Dean had mischaracterized it. The diagnostic test on which she relied was administered by a UNC-hired Ph.D. psychologist, she pointed out. The university has since terminated the contract of that psychologist—a move that raises suspicions in my mind.
Willingham told me her work included a writing test as well as the vocabulary questions assessed by the outside experts. And her evaluation incorporated athletes’ SAT and ACT entrance exams, she said. As best I can tell, UNC’s hired experts weren’t asked to look at all the information on which Willingham based her conclusions.