For most students, getting into the University of North Carolina is a tough thing to do. The school boasts just a 27.6% acceptance rate and is widely regarded as one of the top public universities in the nation.
But when it comes to getting into college, big time athletes play by a different set of rules. Poor grades and SAT scores are often glossed over when a student-athlete is coveted by one of the university’s athletic programs.
Recently, researcher Mary Willingham published a report showing just how poorly many UNC athletes perform academically. Her research showed that between 8-10% of the school’s football and basketball players are reading at a third grade or below level. She even told one story of a player who could not read or write at all.
Rather than own up to the findings of the report, UNC administrators are choosing to gloss over it. The school released a statement on Wednesday night flat out denying Willingham’s report of an illiterate student. The statement went on to plead ignorance about all of the report’s other findings.
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“We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our university with distinction," the statement reads. "Our students have earned their place at Carolina, and we respect what they bring to the university both academically and athletically.
"University officials can't comment on the other statistical claims mentioned in the story because they have not seen that data. University officials have asked for that data, but those requests have not been met."
Willingham says this statement is simply not true. In fact, she provided an email to CNN in which she sent her report to Executive Vice Provost James W. Dean Jr.
"It's already available to them," Willingham said of the data from her report. "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."
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Last year, school officials publicly denied having any knowledge of the research, saying “Such analysis is not a part of her job duties at the university.”
Willingham says she has received numerous death threats from people slamming her for drawing negative attention to the school’s prestigious athletic programs. But, she says, dealing with the threats is worth it if her work helps improve the academic performance of the school’s athletes.
"It's really OK," Willingham said of the threats she receives, "because I'm telling the truth."