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UNC Commissions “Outside Experts” To Review Willingham’s Data

By Rachel Nash Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:45 pm

CHAPEL HILL – UNC Provost Jim Dean said that he stands by the University’s analysis which refutes the claims made by Mary Willingham that a majority of student-athletes she studied had sub-par reading skills. At a Board of Trustees Committee meeting Wednesday, Dean said that the University has commissioned an independent review of Willingham’s data to verify if UNC’s take is true.

Dean said that Willingham’s raw data set and methodology will be independently evaluated by an outside group comprised of experts in educational testing, with a report based on the group’s findings to follow. He estimated that they will return the results within a couple of weeks.

Following the BoT University Affairs Committee meeting, Dean said that he couldn’t release the names of the experts at this time.

Willingham, a former athletics tutor, sparked the latest UNC scandal when she told CNN, in the now infamous article, that 60 percent of the 183 UNC athletes she researched read between a fourth and eighth grade reading level.

Last week, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, Director of Admissions Steve Farmer and Dean fired back, saying that Willingham’s methodology was incorrect and based on a vocabulary test that wasn’t designed to measure reading levels.

Willingham told WNCN Wednesday that the way Dean explained her data analysis was “100 percent incorrect.”

“I’ve already told you what I think [about the data]—but I think it is a fair question. We can verify that with outside experts. That process is going on right now. As soon as we have the data back, we will let you know,” Dean said.

UNC Faculty Chair Jan Boxill acknowledged that some student athletes come in less prepared than their peers and face many challenges.

“Can we say that everybody got the same kind of education? Nobody [can]. So I think that we provide an opportunity for everybody here to have a quality education. People make choices, and so they have the opportunities to do lots,” Boxill said.

Student-Athlete Academic Initiatives Working Group

During the committee meeting, Dean outlined the progress of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiatives Working Group.

The Working Group, which began meeting last September, is examining current practices and policies that govern the approximately 800 student-athletes at Carolina. The goal is to document student-athletes from recruitment to graduation. Members include Dean, Farmer and Bubba Cunningham Director of Athletics.

“This Working Group is one of the great symbols of a University that is striving, without perfection, but striving to try to integrate, in the best possible way academic life and athletic life,” Dean said.

There are 22 processes governing the lives of student athletes. Dean said the Working Group has documented 8 or 9 of them.

“We know we have documentation of the admissions process and some of the registration processes. This is how we are going to govern student athletes from the academic side going forward.”

Dean said the Working Group meets about every three weeks, including a meeting this Friday, with three coaches joining discussions on the topic of recruiting.

“We hope that the work that we do will be useful to other universities around the country because the issues that we are facing—and you know this—are not unique.”

A detailed public document mapping all of the changes that have been made will be released when the Working Group’s efforts are completed.

Boxill added that there will be a national sports summit held in Chapel Hill on May 2 and 3 called “True Sport You: The Impact of College Athletics on Education, Youth Sport, & American Culture.” The summit was organized by leaders from UNC and Penn State, two universities that have felt the effects of sports scandals.

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