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Willingham Sues UNC, Asks For Reinstatement

By Ran Northam Posted July 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Originally posted 11:10 a.m., July 1, 2014

Former UNC academic adviser Mary Willingham says she has filed a civil lawsuit against the University and asked the university system’s governing board to reinstate her.

Willingham is known as the whistle blower who told CNN in January that UNC admitted athletes who were not academically eligible, and that, in turn, the University is unjustly using athletes for financial gains. She says now that the NCAA has decided to return to campus, she doesn’t want it to hand out further punishment, but instead to use the opportunity to “reform the entire system.”

Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs at UNC, Joel Curran said, “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is aware of the lawsuit filed by former employee Mary Willingham. We respect the right of any current or former employee to speak out on important University and national issues. We believe the facts will demonstrate that Ms. Willingham was treated fairly and appropriately while she was employed at Carolina.”

Willingham told WRAL’s Julia Sims that she has asked to be reinstated by the Board of Governors. In early May, she shared on her website that she had resigned from UNC. She first said she made the decision to leave on April 21 after an hour-long meeting with Chancellor Carol Folt. She said the conversation made her realize there was no more she could do at UNC and that she wanted to continue her fight to correct problems with intercollegiate athletics elsewhere.

Now Willingham says she believes “the NCAA will need some serious help from our historians at UNC (since so many years have passed).”

The NCAA told the University Monday that it has reopened its 2011 investigation that led to punishments handed out to the UNC football team. The team was put on probation until 2015, stripped of 15 scholarships over a three-year period, and ineligible for postseason play for one season.

The intercollegiate association says it reopened the investigation because people who were previously unwilling to speak with them may now be available.

One of those people is former UNC basketball standout Rashad McCants. He told ESPN’s Outside the Lines in early June that tutors wrote papers for him, he remained eligible only because of phony “paper classes”, and that his coaches, including Roy Williams, were fully aware of what was going on.

Former assistant attorney general for national security and partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Kenneth Wainstein was hired by the University in January to conduct an external review of any and all academic irregularities. In an update of his investigation given to the Board of Governors on June 20, Wainstein said McCants previously declined to be interview. He said, since the ESPN interviews, another request for an interview has been sent to McCants in hopes that he’s now willing to speak.

Wainstein has also been able to speak with Julius Nyang’oro, the former chair of the African and Afro-American Studies department and his department administrator, Deborah Crowder in his review. Those individuals were quiet during the NCAA’s initial investigation and all other inquiries until Wainstein arrived on campus.

Willingham told WCHL that she and UNC history professor Jay Smith are filing their manuscript with their publisher Tuesday morning before she travels to Washington, D.C. There she says she plans to lobby for athletic reform with meetings scheduled all day Wednesday. She says she doesn’t have any hearings scheduled in D.C. at this time.

The book Smith and Willingham are collaborating on is about the history of the academic scandal at UNC in the African and Afro-American studies department and the illiteracy problems at UNC and at colleges and universities across the nation.

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