Attacking Mary Willingham’s credibility won’t change UNC-Chapel Hill’s guilt in using athletes

by Kent Sterling

Mary Willingham is under attack because of her brave decision to tell the truth.

Mary Willingham is under attack because of her brave decision to tell the truth.

In the midst of an academic scandal, fans of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are borrowing liberally from the disgraceful and unprincipled playbook of the Richard Nixon presidency.

Last night, I was watching the excellent “Nixon by Nixon – In His Own Words” documentary on HBO as my iPhone alerted me that I had a new email.  The subject line read, “Credibility of UNC whistleblower takes a major hit.”  At that same moment in the documentary, Nixon said, “You must keep up the attack on the media.  You’ve got to keep destroying their credibility.

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“There’s not a good one on the whole goddamn three networks.  Not one.”  Nixon was talking to White House counsel Charles Colson in a conversation recorded by the same system that provided the evidence that doomed the Nixon presidency.

The strategy then was to attack the attackers because defending the ruinous amorality that continues to define Nixon was impossible.  The vast majority of what was reported by the media during those dark times was either accurate or didn’t go far enough in capturing the duplicity of Nixon’s Vietnam policy or his loathing for those unlike himself.

Nixon isn’t the only practitioner of the ‘shoot the messenger’ ploy, but he’s probably the best known because of these tapes.  FBI investigations of CBS correspondent Dan Schorr, and audits of income tax returns for those who dared tell the truth about Nixon were the cost of doing business.

That’s what makes those who tell the truth so special.

Because they have nothing to gain but misery, people like former UNC athletic tutor Mary Willingham should be treasured.  Her motivation is to change the game for the supposed student-athletes with whom she worked who got short shrift in the education department because of the greed of a university who coveted the success their athletic talents brought – as well as the cash that donors hand to the school when championship banners are hung.

But Willingham’s kid-first agenda throws a monkey wrench into the blatant corruption of college sports and the sad exploitation of athletes at the University of North Carolina.  Not anxious to see the same hammer come down on the Tar Heels that crippled Ohio State and Penn State (for very different reasons), fans have scoured Willingham’s academic work to find something that might discredit her as a source of honest accounting for the academic malfeasance authored by school officials.

There is a thesis written by Willingham that supposedly contains passages that may have been lifted from other works without credit.  That is plagiarism, and Tar Heels fans are now using it to discredit her reports of academic fraud against the university.

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This was as inevitable a step in the process of getting the truth to media consumers as it was during the Nixon presidency.  Perfection doesn’t exist in human beings, so the work to find a flaw in Willingham’s life was a certainty.  That it took this long, if the report is true, is a credit to Willingham’s essence of decency.

Willingham’s thesis has nothing to do with the facts as corroborated by former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants, who claims that he earned a spot on UNC’s dean’s list despite never attending a class or completing any work during an entire semester.

The very least an athlete at a university should receive in compensation for their on-field/on-court work is an educational experience that will prepare them for life as an adult.  What was going on at UNC is a shameful academic contortion that destroys any validity to the canard of amateurism.

Willingham’s decision to back the athletes who have received grades for academic work never required will continue to be attacked by those unenlightened tools of the university that values victory over humanity, and her life will continue to be damaged as a result.  The winners will be the kids in the future who are provided an education as a result of her honesty.

The losers are the “fans” who continue to reveal their lack of character as they scratch and claw to discredit the only reasonable voices in this scandal.

All Willingham will gain is the satisfaction known only by those who do a very difficult right thing.

99 thoughts on “Attacking Mary Willingham’s credibility won’t change UNC-Chapel Hill’s guilt in using athletes

  1. Andrew

    I was gonna type a long post but it’s not worth it. You haven’t paid attention, you want her to be right, and you’re willing to overlook her shoddy research, her lying, her plagiarism, her repeated violations of student privacy, and her manipulation of the very students she claims she wants to help. The two of you are perfect for one another.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      How did Mary manipulate any students? In what way did she lie? Which specific student’s privacy was violated?

      You want the school’s athletic programs to be undamaged by this scandal, so you throw up vague attacks to distract us from the point which is – was there academic fraud at UNC that required a serious correction. The university paying for its own study does not count as an effort to determine the truth.

      1. Brian

        Pay attention to a story before spouting off, Kent. Willingham manipulated students by failing to tell them what the “literacy” tests were being used for nor did she obtain the students’ consent for her particular use. She lied on her IRB application by stating that her research did not involve human subjects, and if she had told the truth on that application she would have had to prove she had consent. She violated student privacy in her Twitter posts about the classes and grades of the 2005 basketball team starters and 18 players from the most recent football team. She also violated their privacy by sharing student data with people like Jay Smith, Dan Kane, and Sarah Ganim.

        She hasn’t said anything new about the AFAM Department. That was discovered during the NCAA investigation and reported in detail by the Jim Martin report before anybody knew who Mary Willingham was. Willingham simply latched onto it to try to advance her research.

        Willingham’s actual intended contribution, the research on literacy rates, has proven to be faulty. Independent experts have said there is no way her results could have come out the way they did. Willingham refuses to share her methodology after all this time because she knows it will not hold up to scrutiny. When she did share some of the basics of her research with the faculty early on, her presentation proved she couldn’t even do basic math like addition, let alone substantive quantitative research.

        Willingham is an incompetent and deceitful busybody, not someone who should be taken seriously. You simply choose to believe her because you are either ignorant of how this entire situation has played out, or because you care more about controversy than truth.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          I choose to believe Mary because I believed and continue to believe that her motivation is that UNC deliver on the promise of a real education. That comes after listening to her talk about the work she did with students who would never have been offered the opportunity to attend UNC if they were unable to move the financial needle because of their athletic gifts.

          The continued efforts to discredit Willingham are an effort to turn attention from the real issue of academic fraud being perpetrated by coaches and administrators whose primary motivation is the preservation of their positions and luxurious lifestyle.

          Maybe these tactics work in convincing easily distracted media members to abandon their pursuit of the truth, but not here.

          1. Tom

            If you are concerned about the “real” issue of academic fraud, then you should review and cite the numerous reports, such as the Martin Report and previous NCAA investigation into such matters at UNC, which tell a bit more nuanced story than the narrative you have decided to publish. Also, if you’re concerned with the “real” problem of academics and athletics you should expand the scope of your investigative journalism to every other Division I athletic program, otherwise the lack of context in your reporting could be confused with bias.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Again with a discussion of the messengers instead of a passionate defense of UNC. “Hey, look at all the other schools where this kind of thing happens!” is another distraction tactic.

          3. Tom

            A discussion of the messengers is vital to understanding the various claims made about UNC. The Martin Report, NCAA investigation, etc all say something different about UNC’s situation than you have implied through you recent coverage. Additionally, passionate defenders and advocates, while good for site clicks, are exactly the opposite of what is needed when discussing the complexities of academic accreditation and achievement at UNC, which I assume is the “real” issue you’re seeking to discuss. To have an informed, objective discussion on the a broad topic of academics and athletics demands those interested to review the entire spectrum of activity – both inside UNC and among its peers.

          4. kentsterling Post author

            Actually, I have no interest in discussing “complexities of academic accreditation and achievement at UNC.” I am interested in the attack mentality of the UNC boosters who instead of defending their institution, choose to allege impropriety by a person who was sickened by the state of affairs within the athletic department where she worked.

            My interest is in strategy, not academics.

          5. Gary

            You wrote an article referencing MW so of course people are going to comment on her. If you want to receive responses in regards to UNC then you should write an article based on real research with some points you would like to make. I will then visit the comments section of that article and tell you why you are wrong.

          6. kentsterling Post author

            I wrote a post about the irrationally vituperative deflections proferred by UNC backers against Mary. I have no interest in responses from those who would defend the academic menu for the many athletes who feathered the nests of your university without any compensation whatsoever. There is no defense, and that is why so many UNC fans choose to attack Mary.

          7. Gary

            Do you know how much money it costs the university to pay for each athletes education, travel, athletic gear, facilities, etc? If you think they are receiving no compensation then you are a complete idiot. Do you think Michael Jordan would be where he is today without UNC?

          8. kentsterling Post author

            A significant amount are pass through expenses that cost the university very little. If you busted your ass for me for four years while I housed and fed you, and I gave you an lifetime Amtrak pass and a library card, I could make the case that you would be able to read every book ever written and travel America forever. As an added bonus, you get all of the lessons you learned while in my employment What a deal for you, right?

            You would sue me, and rightly so.

          9. Gary

            Just like the military, which has high demands with poverty level pay, college athletics is a voluntary gig. No one drafts star athletes out of high school and requires them to play sports. Athletes know that they can’t be paid, won’t be paid, and will have to work hard. And, like any other college student, they know that in order to actually get anything out of it academically they are going to have to put forth some effort. Do you disagree with this?

            If I busted my ass for you for four years expecting to receive a 6 digit salary and all I got was a train ticket and library card I’d probably sue. But, if it were known that I wouldn’t much in the way of compensation I’d probably pass. But, if part of the deal was that I would receive national exposure, get treated like a rock star by my peers and fans, and have fun doing what I enjoy I might do it anyway.

            It is similar to being in a rock band. Lot’s of kids do it and live on bread and water, travel around in a van with their stinky friends, make next to nothing at gigs, but keep on doing it… not because they have to or because they think they are going to get rich, but because they enjoy it and know it is an opportunity that most people dream about but are never able to do.

            Given the opportunity to play basketball or football at UNC I would jump on it in a heartbeat and I know full well that the only “tangible” thing I would have at the end of it was a diploma.

            To suggest that athletes aren’t compensated and don’t get anything out of it is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I would be willing to bet that >90% of college athletes would say that being at UNC was the best time they ever had. If you don’t think so, why not do some real investigative reporting to find out instead of spouting out what you think might be true?

          10. kentsterling Post author

            The point is not whether the athletes are happy. It’s not whether they feel exploited. By definition, those who are exploited allow it to happen. College sports operates as a cartel, and the employees as represented by athletes are systemically repressed.

            I like your rock band analogy. Those musicians are paid what the market will bear for their services. There is no cap on their earnings. Coldplay makes millions while Uranium 235 makes beer money. Johnny Manziel should have made a lot of money while Cam Coffman was thrilled with his scholarship at Indiana.

            If coaches were paid as professors, and ADs ad deans, my feelings might be a bit different, but not enough to accept college football and men’s basketball players as pure student-athletes who should be satisfied with what that cartel mandates they accept.

          11. Gary

            What is your point? Everyone (including the athletes) knows that athletes are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to compensation. At least the ones where there is a lot of spectatorship at games. But, what does that have to do with UNC? The NCAA makes the rules in regards to the compensation of athletes. That has nothing to do with MW, UNC, or anything else. But, regardless, the athletes DON’T have to play if they don’t want to. They are free to sue, and they have and won, which is good for them, but it has nothing to do with the UNC/MW situation. So, let’s move on from that.

      2. Johnson

        First of all, I commended you for answering your critics on this article. It is more than many writers do. I appreciate it and think it bolsters your overall position.

        Having said that, you say “The university paying for its own study does not count as an effort to determine the truth.” Why not? Isn’t that the same “messenger smearing” your article criticizes?

        1. Allan

          You cannot be serious with those questions! You all are so quick to disqualify Willingham’s observations and experiences but are absolutely forgiving of your own corrupt leadership. How many internal reviews and investigations have they conducted? 7? 8?

          Who is paying the bill for the most recent internal investigation involving the hiring of Wainstein? Nobody within UNCCH will even comment on that.

          Given the fact that UNCCH has hired the same PR firm that worked for President Clinton, and a person whose specialty is to manipulate accusations for his client’s benefit (Wainstein), there is zero evidence of credibility in chapel hill leadership. Time and time again, the leaders in chapel hill, including the board of governors, have proven themselves to be beholden to their alma mater rather than the tax payers of the state who pay their salaries. It isn’t a smear if it is the unfortunate fact.

        2. kentsterling Post author

          It concedes the unfortunate truth that foxes do not do a great job of guarding hen houses. The authors of scandal are unlikely to forage effectively for the details proving the scandal exists. That is not to imply that guilt exists any time there is a self-appointed watchdog – just the likelihood that the person or entity writing the check usually gets the result they paid for.

          1. Johnson


            Fair enough and thanks for answering my question. Maybe the Weinstein investigation will finally expose the bombshell so many UNC detractors want. Remarks here and other places indicate that since UNC is paying for it, the results will be favorable to UNC. I disagree. I think UNC did what it had to do in the face of Willingham’s public assertions. The Martin report was very serious and in no way favorable to UNC.

            I also believe nobody outside his firm knows where the Weinstein investigation stands. I think there is just as much chance a scathing report will be produced resulting in banners being brought down, wins vacated, and Roy Williams losing his job as there is for a tepid report that says it was an academic scandal, remedial measures have been taken, and there was no fraud or conspiracy per se designed to keep athletes eligible.

  2. Jon

    Willingham is a reasonable voice? She plagiarized her master’s thesis, violated HIPAA and FERPA, committed fraud on her IRB application, withheld her study methodology that she used to slander Carolina athletes through several media outlets, and refuses to provide any verifiable specific information to corroborate her claims about the athletic department and Dr. Nyang’oro’s academic scandal.

    You like her story, so you’re going to believe her no matter what she does. She cannot be proven wrong on her claims because she isn’t providing any factual allegations that can be proven false. Your analysis is not serious – it is actually uninformed and remarkably useless.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Did she tell the truth? That is the question that needs to be answered. Everything else is obfuscation.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Saying that Willingham cannot be trusted in her claims about UNC academic fraud because of some reportedly sloppy footnoting in a thesis is the definition of obfuscation.

          1. Gary

            For one thing, no one is saying Willingham cannot be trusted because of “sloppy footnoting”. We’re saying she cannot be trusted because her research findings can’t be reproduced, she lied on her research proposal, and she plagiarized parts of her thesis. Not to mention the suspicion of ulterior motives in regards to a book she is writing. You are the one reducing the argument to only “sloppy footnoting”. It’s the same as if you came to my house dressed like a slob, smelling like rotten fish, with a tshirt having a picture of a naked woman with a goat, and after me sending you away you saying “What? You don’t like goats?”

            Also, your use of the term obfuscation doesn’t fit. Look it up. No one is attempting to cloud the issue with unrelated nonsense. We’re only adding more evidence to a growing pile. If anything, you are obfuscating the issue by conveniently using the term “sloppy footnoting” when you have no idea of whether or not it was inadvertent or intentional. But, when considering the fact that the paper was a Master’s thesis by someone who is supposedly an academic, you would think she would be a little more careful about the content, don’t you? So, if this incident doesn’t help paint the picture of a person who isn’t quite trustworthy, it certainly paints the picture of a person who probably isn’t quite smart enough to be pointing fingers when it comes to matters of education.

            Your sloppy arguments and inability to proofread your own headline put you on par with Willingham as far as I am concerned.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Again – it’s all about attacking messengers for you. If you don’t think waving a shiny object out of the line of vision of those seeking the truth about academic fraud qualifies as obfuscation, you didn’t live through Watergate. Next comment, I would appreciate some defense of UNC’s athletic department.

          3. Gary

            There is no need for me to defend UNC in this matter. UNC has hired multiple investigators for that and I am sure they are more qualified than I am to defend UNC. I am only here to comment on your poor attempt at whatever you consider this. So, let’s be precise. I am actually not attacking the messenger (Willingham); I am attacking you.

          4. Allan

            The majority of basketball fans (UNCCH alumni and walmart shoppers) will stoop to any level to believe the lies and manipulation by the corrupt leadership in our state government from the legislature’s refusal to call for a grand jury investigation to the board of governors refusal to do the same. The proof is flowing from chapel hill like an overflowing coal ash spill and all we hear from their lemmings is the talking points from the PR firm. What a shameful group they have all turned out to be…no integrity, honor, or ethics. JUST WIN, BABY!

      1. Jon

        There are plenty of reasons to suspect she’s not telling the truth about either of her claims.

        With respect to her literacy claims, every athlete at UNC met NCAA requirements. The GPA and SAT score of the average UNC football player for any given year looks like a regular student at a lot of schools – less rigorous than UNC, but not the kind of place that you’d expect 60% of the student body to be illiterate, either.

        As for her claims that Dr. Nyang’oro conducted his classes in the anomalous manner for the benefit of student athletes and in conspiracy with the athletic department, the Martin Report disagrees. The clustering in those classes was similar to the clustering in other classes in other, unimpeachable departments and among other, non-athlete populations. The grade distribution, even for those anomalous classes, was less favorable for SAs than non-athletes. There is no documentary evidence or specific testimony corroborating her claims.

        I agree that the most important thing is whether are not she’s being truthful. How are we to discern the truthfulness of her claims? If she was making specific allegations UNC could attempt to disproven those facts. She’s not making those kinds of allegations. UNC can’t prove a negative.

        Since she won’t make the kinds of claims that can be proven or disproven, what more do we have to go on besides her credibility? It is not obfuscation to question her credibility when she has ensured that her credibility is at issue by failing to undergird her claims. It is called impeachment.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          It is obfuscation to continue to poke holes in methodology rather than seek truth. Your comment is an attempt at impeachment. Most simply try to attack on so many fronts that seeing the forest for the trees becomes difficult.

          What I am trying to say is not that Marry Willingham is perfect or even 100% correct in her assessment of the fraud perpetrated by UNC Athletics – just that those who continue to assail her credibility are motivated – as was the Nixon White House – by a desire to muddy the water.

          When wrongdoers and their supporters attack the credibility of a whistle blower, it is rarely because they are innocent.

          1. Jon

            Like Mary, you’re full of narratives and platitudes, and devoid of evidence. Your accusations accuse real people of doing awful things. Don’t you think there ought to be some steak with that sizzle?

          2. Allan

            NO EVIDENCE?! LOL!

            How about the emails that were published several years ago in the N&O that showed the AFAM professor and the athletes academic advisers? How about the Martin report that, in its purposeful and deceitful objectives, still tossed out the admission that there were hundreds of no-show classes and grade changes?

            It is shameful how you UNCCHeaters and PR stooges keep repeating the message that there is no proof when that is a blatant lie. You bring shame to UNCCH with your PR stunts.

          3. Gary

            I really haven’t heard people saying that there is no proof so much as people saying that the accusations are by and large much greater than what has actually taken place. Of course it is documented that there were some problem spots but at the same time it has been documented that it hasn’t been a case of UNC giving out diplomas to athletes. Anti-UNC fans want to make it bigger than it is and pro-UNC fans are calling them on the ridiculousness of the accusations.

  3. MIKE

    I’d like for someone to point out any of her allegations that were truthful or not exaggerated, By the way, McCants did not say he didn’t do any work. Yes he took 4 independent study courses in one semester and didn’t have to go to class, but work was required. It probably should not be allowed but it is not a violation and nor is it unique to UNC.

    1. Chris

      Yeah, McCant’s directly said he didn’t do the work in those no show classes. He said he and his team piled into a car or carpooled to the tutors house to pick up their papers when the tutor called and said the paper was ready. Willingham came in a couple of years after this scandal actually broke anyway. The proof was there long before she stepped up, she just helped shed national light on the scandal. UNC has tried to keep the spotlight on her, instead of where it should be, and then attack her to somehow convince their fans and the NCAA they did no wrong. Anyone not drinking the light blue koolaid knows UNC is guilty.

      1. Gary

        Like Willingham, McCants is a well documented moron. Why don’t you tell us what Larry, Moe, and Curly said about it next.

        1. Allan

          How much are you being paid by the PR firm, Gary? Your lies may fool the typical walmart fan but there are as many people who are savvy enough to know who you work for.

          1. Gary

            No money. Just hookers and blow… and free tickets to the football and basketball games. How much does NCSU pay you for continuing to be a moron?

  4. Rob F

    Ken, again, name one thing that is provable and Mary hasn’t lied about or overstated. Just one. Anything. One single thing. Make my day. The A- final paper? The literacy stats (60% of athletes can’t read)? Over and over again, these things have been proven false. Because you want to believe something is true, doesn’t make it so… It’s either willful blindness or gullibility on your part. Neither are particularly admirable traits.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Who proved them false. I have never read that the literacy stats were false – just that they were collected in a manner not befitting bonafide research. The attacks are always on methodology, not data. As I am not an expert in the area of academic research, I defer to those who critique those issues for a living. What concerns me is the truth – that UNC pushes athletes through rather than allowing them to succeed or fail as does the rest of the student body.

      Is UNC the only school where athletes are treated like cattle? No. But it is the place that is currently annoying me the most because of the tactics being used by fans and administrators to distract those seeking answers.

      1. James

        “Who proved them false. I have never read that the literacy stats were false – just that they were collected in a manner not befitting bonafide research.”

        Uh, guy, are you serious? Did you not read about the three reports on her “stats”? Are you trolling for hits or do you really believe what you’re saying? For the sake of your career, just stop responding. As unprofessional as Sara Ganim and Paul Barrett have been in this situation they were at least smart enough to jump off the SOS Marebear before it started to sink. You don’t have to do it, you’re not the captain, you don’t have to go down with the ship.

        1. Chris

          Uh, are you serious? Did you not see where UNC failed to give those 3 all the data? UNC paid 3 people and asked very specific questions to get the answers they wanted, all while not providing all the data that Willingham collected. At any rate, the data is meaningless. Those kids sat directly in front of her, tried to read, and failed at doing so. Some even asked her to help them read good enough so they could just read about themselves in the paper. It’s truly sad, but of course the “fans” of UNC just want them to win at any cost. They couldn’t care less about the players.

          1. Rich

            Uh Chris, are YOU serious?

            The outside review of former athletic tutor Mary Willingham’s research determined the test she used on student-athletes could not accurately gauge their reading level.

            “The data do not support public claims about the students’ reading ability,” the press release issued Friday said.

            Willingham said her research determined that 60 percent of a sample of 183 athletes were not college-literate. She said she used the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults and SAT scores to evaluate literacy levels, as well as ACT scores, GPA’s, credit hours and academic standing information.

            “While SATA RV (the 25-question, multiple choice vocabulary subtest) results can be informative as part of screening for learning differences and/or disabilities, they are not accepted by the psychological community as an appropriate measure of reading grade level and literacy,” the press release said.

            The board hired by UNC this spring made its announcement today, four months after Willingham first publicly announced her research findings in a CNN article.

            The members of the review board, who UNC did not reveal until today, included Nathan Kuncel with the University of Minnesota, Lee Alan Branum-Martin of Georgia State University and Dennis Kramer with the University of Virginia.

            “I looked at the data that was provided to me and examined several of the claims that were made about it, so the report talks about what the data does and doesn’t say as far as I’m concerned,” Kuncel said in an interview.

          2. Jameshere

            “At any rate, the data is meaningless. Those kids sat directly in front of her, tried to read, and failed at doing so. Some even asked her to help them read good enough so they could just read about themselves in the paper.”

            Great story, unfortunately the only person who says this happened has been caught lying several times. Do you see now why her credibility is so valuable to her case? She is the only one making these claims, she cannot/will not provide proof to anything she says, so we must trust her at her word. However, it’s hard to trust someone that has lied so many times…unless you want to believe her because you know, whatever.

          3. Allan

            It is laughable that these people are trashing M Willingham when anyone who can read at a high school graduate level could spot an illiterate person immediately. What is truly shameful is the sycophants of UNCCH sports who would abandon any and all integrity and honor to just keep their sports gravy train rolling along. Kill the messenger and keep those illiterate athletes coming!

    2. Jeffrey P

      Re: Litteracy Stats

      1. Ms. Willingham never said 60% of UNC athletes she couldn’t read. She said 60% of the 183 athletes she worked with over a decade couldn’t read at a college level and that a handful were functionally illiterate. This is an example of the obfuscation that Kent is talking about.

      2. UNC paid hand selected three people and paid them $5,000 each to respond to a set of questions and data UNC provided. They did not provide those individuals access to Ms. Willingham nor did UNC provide them the full set of data and experiences that Willingham had to work with.

      3. Provost James Dean gave the three researches ONLY data on the SATA RV scores, ignoring the SAT, ACT, SATA WM, WAIS scores and the experience Mary had working with improving the reading skills of these athletes. Does that sound like a “fair” study to you?

      4. Before my last point, I’d like to give an example of a UNC student athlete reading a children’s book. Please note, this particular athlete holds a UNC diploma.

      5. Here are the questions posed to these experts. This is shameful that a top-tier Research I University is allowed to get away with loaded questions like this and pass it off as a serious study of their athletes literacy.

      Charge to the External Experts
      1. Is the SATA Reading Vocabulary (RV) subtest a true reading test?

      2. Were SATA RV standard scores mistakenly interpreted as grade equivalents to
      report on UNC student-athletes’ reading grade levels?

      3. Can you verify that the SATA Reading Vocabulary (RV) data in the January 13
      data set is in the form of standard scores?

      4. Can you verify that SATA RV standard scores are not the same as grade

      5. The SATA test is normed against a sample of 1005 people with the following
      demographics: Based on your professional expertise and your analysis of the data set, would this
      difference in demographics have an impact on reporting results?

      6. To what extent should the SATA RV subtest be considered a measure of literacy?
      Should these results be reported in terms of grade level?

    3. Aaron

      First, you do realize that Willingham never said that “60% of athletes can’t read”. Her claim was that of the 183 basketball and football players she researched, “60% read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels. Between 8% and 10% read below a third-grade level.”

      Second, as for “proving” her statements wrong, to make that claim you have to assume that despite Willingham’s insistence to the contrary, the only data she used to make her claims is the SATA data provided to the experts by UNC. However, the numbers in the individual reports don’t match up with each other, let alone with Willingham’s claims. For one thing, Kramer’s report indicates that the scope of athletes tested was broader than just football and basketball players as Willingham claimed. It also puts the total number of athletes at 211 rather than 183. On the other hand, Kuncel’s report indicates that there were 183 entries in the data set, but that one of the entries was a “variable name line” which dropped the number of entries to 182. Both reports indicated that 6 of the entries for athletes did not include scores at all. So what was originally supposed to be research performed on 183 football and basketball players turned into a data set for between 176 and 205 athletes across all sports, with approximately 3% of the athletes not being included in any results from the experts. Branum-Martin did not even try to replicate Willingham’s data because he felt the data provided was insufficient and indicated that he had issues with the wording of questions asked by UNC. And despite UNC’s insistence that the additional data Willingham claimed to have used wouldn’t have aided in determining grade-level equivalency, Branum-Martin did support the claim that data from additional tests, along with the SATA data provided, could allow for a reading grade level to be assigned to a student.

      Of course, none of this means that Willingham’s claims are 100% accurate, but it does seem to indicate that the conclusions drawn by UNC were somewhat cherry picked and potentially unreliable. And regardless of how overstated Willingham’s claims may have been, your experts do seem to agree that at least 6-8% of those tested did in fact read at a 3rd-8th grade level. Of course, that doesn’t matter because Willingham “lied”, right?

  5. Gary

    “Attacking Mary Willingham’s credibility won’t change what UNC-Chapel Hill’s guilt in using athletes”

    Do journalists even try anymore? Please fix your headline.

  6. Phillip Wunder

    Crying, lying, denying, and vilifying won’t change the facts, as stated by others than Mary Willingham, even UNC’s self-appointed ex-Governor and the half a dozen other “investigators” paid by UNC, including $1,000/hr Wainstein and his highly overpaid staff, who undoubtedly will deliver another whitewash. The NCAA and True BABY BLUE Markyboy will probably gloss over this disgrace as well. Thanks to a UNC Regent at Bloomberg, the whole country has knowledge of the farcical cover-up, a carbon copy of Watergate, like it or not blind mice and see no, hear no evil alumni. Where are the ethical and moral and Senator Sam Ervin caliber UNC grads with integrity and honesty? Sam is turning over in his grave at the sordid actions of his beloved UNC.

        1. Gary

          I haven’t made any assertions or inferred anything about where UNC lies in any of this. I have limited my comments to the credibility of Willingham and the fallacies of your arguments. You seem to have a habit of making unfounded assumptions.

  7. Jason

    Nice work, Kent. Calling out these UNC apologists for what they are attempting to do. Mary Willingham is a distraction from the truth. Everything that Mary Willingham said about her experience was backed up by Rashad McCants and evidenced by his transcript. End of story.

    1. Allan

      Her charges have been backed up by multiple examples. McCants, Julius Peppers transcript, Marvin Austin’s transcript, emails between Nyangoro and the athletic department’s advisers who were steering athletes, and many other athletes who have stepped forward and admitted the truth about academic fraud and corruption at UNCCH.

      1. Allan

        I still am laughing at the PR stooges who are spreading lies in this comment section with their claims that there is no proof. To the general audience, there are sources and even a book that has been published where you can find all of the evidence that is necessary to prove this reporter’s point. UNCCH has not only cheated but has invested many millions of tax dollars to do so. The same shady characters have also spent many millions more to hide their shame from public view, including these PR stooges who are working so diligently to generate false information. Remember, UNCCH has hired the very same PR firm that Bill Clinton utilized to repair his public image.

        1. Gary

          “To the general audience, there are sources and even a book that has been published where you can find all of the evidence that is necessary to prove this reporter’s point.”

          There are also books published about Area 51, secret aliens, and big foot. Small minded people will believe whatever they want to believe in order to make up for the things in life that they don’t understand… for instance, why NCSU continues to fail at football regardless of who they hire, play, or put on a billboard. You want to believe UNC is cheating because you think that is the only way they have been able to dominate the team you admire year after year after year. Perhaps you should just wake up and realize that a school full of racist hillbillies isn’t all that attractive to African American athletes who have a choice to play at a more progressive thinking place like Chapel Hill.

  8. Jason

    August 7, 2014 | 7:54 pm

    There is no need for me to defend UNC in this matter. UNC has hired multiple investigators for that and I am sure they are more qualified than I am to defend UNC. I am only here to comment on your poor attempt at whatever you consider this. So, let’s be precise. I am actually not attacking the messenger (Willingham); I am attacking you.

    Well there you have it! UNC has hired multiple investigators to DEFEND UNC. Thanks for admitting what the rest of us already know.

    1. Gary

      They hired investigators to find out the facts. If the facts showed UNC was guilty then so be it. But, that isn’t what happened. The facts of the investigation defended UNC. The investigation in itself was just an investigation. That’s how investigations work… now go explain it to the “rest of you”.

  9. Jonathan Unga

    “Ken, again, name one thing that is provable and Mary hasn’t lied about or overstated. Just one. Anything.”

    The “debate” on this issue is a case study in human psychology. There are extremists on both sides of the case: ravening rivals slavering for “justice” and color-blind fanboys utterly convinced of innocence. The perceptions of those groups are cast in stone and immune to the inconvenience of facts or truth.

    But these groups, though often the most vocal, are truly in the minority. There’s a vast population of relatively indifferent observers who see things differently.

    Here’s what it looks like from the outside. Regarding the quote above: you’re right in one sense – it’s truly difficult for anyone to prove anything in this sad dance. Mountains of FOIA requests for data have been met with the standard tactics of delay, followed by misapplied and strident shrieks of “FERPA! FERPA!”, followed by “but, but, seven different reviews…” ad nauseum.

    The outside view is that your university is responding to this issue by attacking anyone who suggests something may be wrong. Whistleblowers are “liars, frauds,…” Even moderate suggestions are met with extreme resistance. Anything published online is immediately attacked in a manner that seems almost planned and choreographed. Reasonable suggestions for access to data are universally denied via apparent overly general application of FERPA. The facts and evidence which have been discovered – Martin report conclusions around irregular classes and disproportionate athlete participation, voluntarily (and otherwise) released transcripts, testimony, etc – suggest a deliberate culture of collusion to maintain eligibility of athletes in revenue sports who are ill-equipped for university work.

    It doesn’t matter how many reviews are conducted under UNC’s guidance, no one outside the UNC community will accept the conclusions as fact because the process is not open and transparent and therefore, by definition, not independent. If supporters want the existing reviews’ conclusions to be taken seriously, the public needs to understand (1) who paid for the work? and (2) what were the contract terms or Scope of Work?

    If you truly want to see if Mary’s accusations (and others’) are true, let’s agree to a truly open and independent investigation. Let’s share who is paying for the work, make public the contract or scope of work document, and share all discovered data. Let’s engage an independent party to determine what information should truly be protected by FERPA, and let’s agree that even in the cast of FERPA-protected information, we can still share aggregate data with personally identifiable data removed.

    Until that happens, the continued attacks on reasonable people asking reasonable questions will be viewed exactly as described in Mr. Sterling’s article. Nixon, indeed.

    1. James

      Wait, by “from the outside” you really mean “from a State fan” right? That is the only way you could see this the way you do. It’s pretty obvious those truly on “the outside”, outside of Raleigh NC, have lost interest in this. Were’s your friend Ganim and Barrett? Why did ESPN quickly shut down their coverage? That’s what happens when you hitch your trailer to a fraud, you end up looking like a fool. Even your favorite person, Dan Kane, called Willingham out on her bs. When the Wainstein report comes out an nothing more on the basketball team is found, the NCAA says no need to punish the basketball team, the UNC basketball keeps winning, how will you feel then, you being, as you said, an outsider?

      1. Jonathan Unga

        I am neither a “State fan”, nor do I live in Raleigh.

        Took a few minutes, but I found Mr Kane’s article at and read the article.

        You said he “called Willingham on her bs”.

        Instead of putting words in Dan’s mouth, I’ll post a link to the article for readers to draw their own conclusions. For reference, here is the article:

        What I find in the article is that he says she is accused of plagiarism based on several examples of sloppy and/or improper citation. Even though I haven’t looked at the thesis, I will stipulate that Ms. Willingham was sloppy in her execution, and I will stipulate that her graduate advisors are similarly at fault for failing to remediate this during her thesis review.

        In most university settings, even a single improper citation is technically plagiarism. However, the corrective actions are extremely variable, and are left to the discretion of instructors or graduate committees. In order to receive punitive actions, instructors or committee typically want to see intent to deceive, or intent to pass off work as one’s own. Before passing judgement, I would want to know: how many instances of improper citation are there in the thesis? How does that compare to the number of proper citations? Does a pattern of intentional deception result?

        Again, and maybe this is just me, but this seems like a leap from “a few improper citations” -> “she’s a fraud” -> “this means UNC didn’t do anything wrong”. I further confess that I prefer my logic less convoluted, and more, well, logical.

        Oh, and still trying to find where, specifically, in the article Mr. Kane “calls her on her bs.” Can you help me out with that?

      2. Jonathan Unga

        I posted a reply to this. It is awaiting moderation because (I guess) I included the actual URL to Mr Kane’s article. Feel free to respond when/if it is approved.

        1. James

          Not sure how posting a Dan Kane, Raleigh NC “reporter”, is arguing your viewing this from the outside. Just tell me the title of the article and your reply. I’ll google it.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      That might be the most erudite, best presented comment in the four years this site has been in operation. I hope you are in a position of power in the world because your ability to grasp the complex, and present it clearly and concisely is quite rare. Thank you for taking the time to share.

      1. Jonathan Unga

        I am often accused of many things, and “erudite” isn’t usually the first thing I hear, so I thank you sincerely for the compliment.

        And thank you for publishing the original article. It is always instructive to look at any issue from alternative perspectives, and you, by linking the outward behavior to a similar historical event, illuminated some potential motivations that I had previously not considered.

        Clearly, most of the general media power structure are inexplicably uninterested in this monumental scandal, and it takes a measure of backbone to buck the trend. Kudos to you, as well.

        My personal interest stems largely from the fact that I do not suffer elitism lightly and, from my perspective, the overall psychology of UNC’s mishandling just screams entitled, self-assured elitism to me. Given the support that they enjoy and the apparent disinterest among all of the entities with the power to move them, it may yet work for them. I hope not, in the name of simple morality, if nothing else.

        Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

  10. Alan justus

    The ONLY bottom line is that UNC cheated for decades and finally got caught. All of the excuse making, finger pointing, kill the messenger, everybody does it, everyone just move along whining doesn’t matter. UNC CHEATED and got CAUGHT. That’s the bottom line line Carowhina fans and apologists.

    1. Allan

      Maybe the next person who robs a bank can use the ‘everyone does it’ argument in court. UNCCH has used academic fraud and corruption to build their athletic empire. Tax payer money has been used to build, maintain, pay salaries, all for the selfish and unethical ambitions of UNCCH athletic boosters and their sad and pathetic fans. What we now see without doubt is that they have the wealth and political clout to simply refuse to address and admit their crimes. Therein lies the rub, and that is where the greatest threat lies.

  11. Logan

    What does MW’s research or her thesis have to do with the 500 grade changes and 200+ bogus classes that have been proven true? What does her research or thesis have to do with McCants’ and Peppers’ transcript? What does MW’s research or thesis have to do with classes designed specifically for student-athletes to maintain NCAA eligibility? What does her research or thesis have to do with Roy not knowing what classes his players were taking or how Butch didn’t know his own tutor was inappropriately helping his football players with their papers? What does MW’s research and thesis have to do with Hairston getting busted for driving rental cars given to him by a convicted felon all while UNC was still on probation for impermissible benefits?

    1. Gary

      MW’s research and thesis have nothing to do with any of the points you mentioned because her research and thesis are a bunch of hooey.

      What does Hairston driving a rental car have to do with academic integrity? Do you just randomly throw stuff out there and hope that it is relevant to something?

  12. Alan justus

    The entire matter could be settled in a couple of hours. Compare the AFAM classes taken by the athletes with the fake classes reported and identified. If the pattern shows that the athletes took these classes in a systematic way for eligibility purposes then expose the corruption and enablers of the cheating. If it does not show that pattern then demand an apology from the accusers. The public is willing to do this. UNC is not. So who is afraid of the truth? I’ll hang up now and wait for the “Mary is a liar, everybody hates us, you’re just jealous because we’re so great” onslaught from the Army of Wal Mart fans who never attended UNC.

    1. Gary

      Actually, that wouldn’t prove anything. Lot’s of students take easy classes because they are known to be easy. Fact: some students go to NCSU because they know it will be easier than UNC. Should NCSU be dismantled for being a bad school?

      1. Logan

        We’re not talking about easy classes Gary. We’re talking about classes that didn’t meet and simply required a paper (McAdoo ring a bell?). And when they couldn’t earn a grade that kept them eligible, someone at UNC forged a professor’s sig and changed the grade.

        Every school has easy classes, not every school has fake classes.

        1. Gary

          There are plenty of legitimate classes that don’t meet and only require a paper. If the class requires learning about something and then demonstrating knowledge of that subject, whether it be a test, project, or paper, what difference does it matter if it meets? Do correspondence courses meet? No. Are they legitimate? Yes. I will agree that there is a line where the requirements of the classes are so low that the class has no value but it isn’t valid to throw out a blanket statement that says that if a class doesn’t meet and only requires a paper that it is worthless. Each class needs to be examined on a case by case basis. The anti-UNC crowd aren’t willing to accept that fact because it doesn’t meet their agenda.

          1. Aaron

            I have a feeling you have your agendas mixed up. “Anti-UNC” folks have been asking for these classes, those enrolled, the work performed, and the effect of grades “earned” to be examined on a case by case basis for over two years now. What do you think people are referring to when they say that the “truth is in the transcripts”? UNC, on the other hand, wants to keep this as all-encompassing as possible. As long as they can keep people believing that athletes making up 45% of anomalous enrollments, despite making up only 16% of all AFAM/AFRI enrollments, means that everything was “even”, they’re happy. They have no desire to have people delving into the details.

            Lets be honest for a minute. We’ve known for over 3 years that a foreign language, Swahili, was taught as a paper class for a select few individuals. Several of those individuals happened to be athletes, and in the one case we know of, the athlete’s paper was written in English and based on English sources. Even ignoring the fact that the paper was plagiarized, who honestly believes that such an assignment is a legitimate way of quantifying a student’s ability to read, write and communicate in a foreign language at year 1 much less year 3? Yet this happened and no one at UNC seemed to care. Instead they swore up and down that it was McAdoo’s work despite all the evidence to the contrary and made no attempt to look investigate any of the other enrollments in McAdoo’s summer session, or any other “anomalous” section. So if they decided not to examine one of the more publicized cases which had occurred only a couple of years earlier, why would they do a case-by-case examination of any of the 200+ classes now?

      2. Ismael

        Gary you must not have read everything. What was uncovered in the football scandal prong of this octopus of corruption was that football players needed an easy class, an AFAM class was created and it was immediately filled with 18 then current players + 1 former player who had come back to U*NC to get his degree.

        Or the correspondence between the athletic-academic support staff and the AFAM staff to create easy classes for athletes.

        And in response to an earlier post: if you are calling MW’s Master’s Thesis a “bunch of hooey”, then you should also know that other U*NC professors looked at her thesis and said it would have passed at U*NC as well. Ergo, if her thesis is hooey then most other U*NC post-grad theses are hooey as well, maybe even yours? But we all know that you didn’t go to U*NC.

        1. Gary

          I have a BS from UNC-CH so the “we” who you are referring to who “know” I didn’t go to UNC are as wrong about me as everything else. I was not required to write a thesis to graduate in my field.

          By which logic do you go from me thinking MW’s thesis is a bunch of hooey to you thinking because of that I am required to know that UNC professors looked at it? Is it the same logic that lead you to believe that I didn’t go to UNC?

          Face it, you don’t know what you are talking about, or at least you aren’t saying what you know. So, there is no point in even talking to you.

        2. James

          “And in response to an earlier post: if you are calling MW’s Master’s Thesis a “bunch of hooey”, then you should also know that other U*NC professors looked at her thesis and said it would have passed at U*NC as well.”

          Can you please tell me where I can find such quotes? I’m pretty sure you’re talking about something you read on packpride, if so, that poster was wrong.

          1. Gary

            I don’t read Pack Pride. I tried to once but I found that I was banned from the site without ever having visited it.

      3. Jonathan Unga

        Again, from an external perspective, this looks like brazen attempts to marginalize legitimate inquiry by over-generalization. Facts: the Martin report shows a disturbing trend where the percentage of student athletes in the “irregular” classes was disproportionate to the student body as a whole. Yes, there are “paper classes” at almost every research university. Some are easy, some are not. At most universities, the privilege of that class is reserved for exceptional students who have demonstrated the ability for self-paced education. The non-AFAM grades on Mr. McCants transcript put the lie to that facet.

        And, as quoted above, there is little or no concern about “easy” classes. I would agree that you can find “easy” classes at almost any school. What’s at issue are demonstrably “fake” classes – no syllabus, no attendance requirement, no work required. There’s no way to paint that other than inappropriate. The reasonable request from the outside is this: separate the “irregular” classes into the real ones and the fraudulent ones. In some views, participation in a fraudulent class should automatically render a SA ineligible. But let’s compromise and go one step further, giving the benefit to the SA and the athletic department. Simply determine which SA’s participated in the fraudulent classes, remove that class from their GPA calculation, and determine if (a) they still had enough course load to qualify as a full time student (because surely they wouldn’t cram multiple fake classes in a single semester, right?) and (b) their re-calculated GPA still keeps them eligible. If not, report the ineligible SA’s the the NCAA. Done.

        Think of how much money and time this would save the taxpayers of NC, and allow so many UNC administrators currently in fire-drill mode to return to their much neglected jobs.

  13. M_N

    I see Bradley Bethel and the PR team are all over this like UNC athletes signing up for a Swahili class. Attacking the messenger has never, in the history of ever, fixed a problem. You know what fixes a problem? Actually FIXING the problem.

    There is nothing you can say about Mary Willingham that is going to change the fact that for 2 decades or more, LONG before she ever set foot on campus, UNC had a system in place that provided fraudulent classes to help elite athletes maintain academic eligibility. Mary only provided the reason: UNC accepted athletes that had no chance of doing the work. None.

    1. Pete

      As to your point that “UNC accepted athletes that had no chance of doing the work. None”, most of those such ‘no-chance’ athletes actually graduated.

      They graduated?! That is one of the primary distinctions that make UNC’s huge scandal worse than the garden variety of “rocks for jocks” classes that may be common across college sports. The only way a jock can flunk out of African Studies at UNC is if he doesn’t sign his name on his plagiarized paper.

      Another important distinction between UNC’s academic fraud and so-called “easy classes” is that a UNC’s fraud class didn’t require the ball player to get out of bed 40 times a semester and sit in a classroom or take an exam. Take 4 of these classes a year, and that amounts to 160 trips to sit in classrooms and many nights of studying for exams.

      I hope there is a nationwide study of this. It will show that UNC is one of the very few, if not the only, sports program to cheat at this scale. It will also show that very few, if any, offer independent study courses for poor students, such as the athletes that UNC warehoused in African Studies. Those are for the very best students, not the very least. Furthermore, those fraud classes were listed as lecture classes, not independent.

      It is absolutely amazing that UNC apologists even try to make this out to be an ordinary “easy classes for jocks” matter. I suppose that they know that most readers won’t figure out the 160 trips/yr to class aspect mentioned above.

  14. Phil

    It sickens me to see people attaching MW when so many people including UNC professors alighn themselves with her. How does a university go 30+ years with no basketball player ever flunking out, including those that had the SAT read to them so they could answer the questions or one that made 520 on his SAT?

    The only way that can happen is that the university is not a real university, that it is not teaching anyone; or that a path is bulldozed for student-athletes who cannot do the work. There are four student athletes who have spoken out against the paper class system that existed (s?) at UNC. There have been two transcripts come to light that support MW’s allegations. Its not a hard deduction to see that a path has been bulldozed by UNC with the athletic departments participation.

    This is like all the other chances that UNC had to come clean. Instead of making a public apology to the students, to MW, to its alumni, and to the taxpayers of NC, UNC chooses to muddy the water with either unsubstantiated allegations or simple lies.

    UNC and its supporters should be ashamed to call the free pass universtiy in Chapel Hill, a university. Shameful.

    1. James

      How many basketball players flunked out of Duke? How many out of UK? KU? How many basketball players flunked out of Virginia? UNC, Duke, UK, KU, and so on, all recruit the same players every year, how do those that don’t go to UNC stay in school? Is it because all universities grease their athletes along? Also, who are these professors at UNC that stick up for Marebear? I’ve heard about Jay Smith, but no one else. As for his righteousness, that will be destroyed very shorty — thanks to FOIA request his emails are about to be made public.

  15. Pauly Balst

    Its fascinating reading these comments. As an uninterested bystander, I’ve gone from indifference to thinking MW must have really uncovered some disturbing truths at UNC the way she is being personally attacked. There is no other explanation.

    Is there a clear victim here? So what if it’s all true? McCants took easy classes and got to the pros via a flawed NCAA system, MW was heard and gained some fame knowing she’d be attacked, UNC has a glancing blow to its reputation, Roy Williams likely did what he needed to do for his player and stakeholders, and the NCAA looks like a toothless lion.

    Is the NCAA involved or will they get involved? If not, why not? Heaven help us if a kid like McCants would make a few bucks when the power conferences are making millions.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The NCAA re-opened the investigation a couple of months ago. Without subpoena power, the investigators will likely be stonewalled – as usual. When they got clever at Miami (FL), people went bananas and investigators got fired. Since then – not a lot of aggressive work being done.

  16. Chris

    There is a very simple way to refute her claims without going through character assassination. Simply show us the transcripts. Remove the identifiable information and release the hard data. The author is spot on in the commentary above. Attacking the information source is a classic tactic of the guilty. Its always best to argue points with data. Until then, your a cheater. This could be over by this afternoon….the fact that 4 years later, we’re still waiting for basic data releases is very telling. If UNC wants to get credibility, release clear data and answer questions; its that simple. Do not personally attack a former employee who worked with these kids for years and finally got the nerve to speak up.

    1. Aaron

      Are you going to buy yourself a championship ring and put up a billboard? Personally, I’d throw a parade. 🙂

    2. ncsu1987

      Well, imagine that! Someone from UNC declaring themselves something they’re not. Did you give yourself a Coastal Division Championship ring as well?


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