Mary Willingham, Whistleblower on the UNC, Chapel Hill Scandal, To Speak on the Education of Athletes and the Future of Big-Time College Sports
BERKELEY, CA, April 22, 2016 – Mary Willingham, co-author of the controversial new book, Cheated, which recounts the largest academic fraud scandal in the NCAA history at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will give a talk on April 26th, at Berkeley.
Mary Willingham is the former athletics literacy counselor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), who blew the whistle about fake classes that went on for nearly 20 years at the prestigious institution. She brought to light that UNC-CH steered woefully underprepared basketball players and football players to take fake classes to keep them eligible for competition, while faculty and administrators looked the other way.
Cheated, co-authored with Jay M. Smith, UNC-CH professor of history, chronicles the uncovering of academic fraud in UNC-CH’s athletics department during which university leaders focused on minimizing the damage in order to keep the billion-dollar college sports revenue machine functioning.
In her book, Willingham relays how as a UNC-CH literacy counselor she was working with basketball and football stars who read at a grade-school level. As part of her job, she was expected to steer these young men, many of them African American, into classes offered by the black studies department that never met. These classes were referred to as “paper classes” because all that was required was a single 20-page paper. Any paper that was submitted by these students received an A or a B and it wasn’t clear if anyone was even reading the papers. Notes Willingham,
“I was part of something that I came to be ashamed of. We weren’t serving the kids. We weren’t educating them properly. We were pushing them toward graduation, that’s not the same as giving them an education.”
In 2011, UNC-CH defensive star Michael McAdoo was pulled from the football team because the NCAA had declared him ineligible for accepting excessive help on term papers from an undergraduate tutor. McAdoo filed a lawsuit against the NCAA seeking reinstatement to the UNC-CH football team and because of these public records, the door was opened for scrutiny of the UNC-CH athletics program.
Willingham began to have private conversations with Bill Friday, President Emeritus of UNC, starting in 2010 about the fact that rather than educating its recruited athletes, the University was playing a shell game with them to keep them from studying at all. Friday encouraged Willingham to speak with Dan Kane from the News & Observer (regional paper) and Willingham spoke with Kane off the record until Bill Friday passed away in Fall 2012. In November 2012, Willingham went public with what she knew.
What she disclosed was devastating to UNC-CH’s image - beginning in the 1990s and continuing at least through 2011, the UNC-CH department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies offered more than 200 lecture courses that never met. Internal reviews identified forged faculty signatures and more than 500 grades changed without authorization. The students affected were disproportionately football and basketball players.
For her whistleblowing activities, Willingham was stripped of her supervisory title in 2013. UNC-CH also publicly condemned her for suggesting that some football and basketball players couldn’t read well enough to get through their classes honestly. Willingham stepped down from her job in 2014 and is now part of a class action lawsuit, filed by Michael Hausfeld on behalf of two former UNC-CH athletes who say they were promised an education they didn’t receive. Of the lawsuit, Willingham states:
It’s about the students and not me. I got an education, but those students left without
one, and we still have a system that doesn’t work. And so I’m hopeful that the Hausfield
lawsuit will move forward and prove that NCAA Division I schools all across the country
have a flawed system where a promise of an education isn’t happening and therefore
these students are getting nothing.
In her talk, Willingham will discuss what she believes will eventually dismantle the NCAA machine –that the “student-athletes” in these programs are being cheated out of what is promised them in a scholarship agreement contract: a college education.
Carol Christ, Director at Center for Studies in Higher Education, will moderate the discussion.
Sponsored by: The Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley, at Bechtel 240, Tuesday, April 26th, from 3:00-4:30pm.
Mary Willingham is an author, educator, activist and human resources professional. Willingham has a BS in Psychology from Loyola University, Chicago, and an MA in Liberal Studies from UNC-Greensboro. Her research includes studies on the NCAA and university admission procedures with regards to profit athletes, and their specific gaps in basic skill deficits, as well as the incidence of LD/ADHD. She is a co-owner of Paper Class Inc., a company dedicated to raising awareness about the need for NCAA reform.
Carol Christ, is the Director, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley; former President, Smith College; and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, UC Berkeley.
Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE)
was established in 1956 and was the first research institute in the United States devoted to the study of systems, institutions, and processes of higher education. The Center’s mission is to produce and support multi-disciplinary scholarly perspectives on strategic issues in higher education, to conduct relevant policy research, to promote the development of a community of scholars and policymakers engaged in policy-oriented discussion, and to serve the public as a resource on higher education. http://cshe.berkeley.edu