Story originally posted May 15, 2014, 4:27 p.m.
Mary Willingham may have broken the promise of confidentiality she made when applying for her research, which resulted in her claims of illiteracy among UNC student-athletes.
Thursday the University released former academic advisor and reading specialist Mary Willingham’s 2013 application for research. The release completed a public records request from WCHL and the Daily Tar Heel. The application was submitted to the Office of Human Research Ethics, which determined that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) did not need to approve the outlined research project.
The main area in which the IRB looks is whether identifiable information is going to be used in the study. FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects education records, requiring written consent by the subjects studied. Willingham’s application stated that no names or identifiable private information would be used.
However, in a Daily Tar Heel article in January, Willingham confirmed she had the names of the individuals she was studying asking, “how would I do the research if I didn’t have the names?” And on April 6, Willingham tweeted, “’05’ UNC basketball champs starting 5 +1 took a combined 69 paper classes. truth=transcripts=transparency. A real education= #ncaareform.”
The application also listed UNC History professor Jay Smith as a secondary investigator. In an email exchange with UNC learning specialist Bradley Bethel, author of the blog Coaching the Mind, Smith stated the data that were collected were secondary data and therefore not something that would include identifiable information.
The application states that if any changes in the research process are made, the IRB must be contacted immediately before continuing.
The application says the study was being conducted to research the “incidence of ADHD and learning disabilities in freshman student athletes.” Nowhere in the application does it state the intent to find reading abilities among the subjects.
Willingham resigned from UNC earlier this month saying she wanted to continue her efforts to reform the NCAA from outside the University.
WCHL has reached out to Willingham for a comment and is awaiting a reply.
Research Applications (The most recent application filed trumps any previous applications)
UNC learning specialist, Bradley Bethel, released this statement: “My initial reading confirms what I have been writing since February: Willingham has been deceitful about the nature of her research, and she appears to have unlawfully accessed and acquired athletes’ academic and health records.”
Bethel will appear on the WCHL Morning News Friday with more thoughts.