by Kent Sterling
Mary Willingham, the former academic advisor for the University of North Carolina’s athletic department, saw a wrong and tried to right it. For that she was dispatched, and now she will get paid.
Sometimes life actually is fair.
Student-athletes were admitted to UNC minus the basic classroom skills needed to survive the academic rigors there, but were needed on the field/court, so they were shepherded through a curriculum that did not represent the education they were promised in exchange for the use of their athletic prowess.
Mary told the truth about the mess as others looked the other way, trying not to upset the very profitable apple cart that led to excellence and cash. At first, she was warehoused like many of the athletes she tried to help, and finally was propelled from employment at UNC through systemic malice.
It’s true that Mary resigned, but let’s be honest about that. She was driven from the university by those who treated her with great hostility for trying to help those who needed it, and revealing a methodology of admitting student-athletes that were not prepared to succeed at UNC.
So now she gets $335,000 from the school in a whistle-blower settlement. After legal fees, she will net roughly three years salary from her former position.
For a school with athletic revenues and expenses of just over $82-million, $335K is tip money, but hopefully the harsh media spotlight Mary’s work has generated will cause (or has caused) a change in the way student-athletes are treated in Chapel Hill.
Mary won today, but for generations, UNC athletes will win because Mary stood up alone as their emissary while many decided the sacrifice required for telling the truth was too stiff to warrant their intercession.
Telling the truth is always the right thing, and while I’m sure Mary would be happier continuing to help athletes learn, $335K lessens the pain of being a teacher without a classroom.