This is Lew Margolis.
I hope that anyone connected with UNC in any way — faculty, students, staff, administrators, fans of its athletics teams — will agree, without hesitation, that death threats have no place in the university. And yet, shockingly, that is exactly what Mary Willingham, a learning specialist at UNC, has experienced. Why? Apparently, because some people don’t like her provocative analysis of educational readiness among some UNC football and basketball players. Based on analysis of educational testing data that the Department of Athletics provided, and supplemented by her years of experience conscientiously working with UNC athletes, Ms. Willingham has asked and attempted to answer an important question. Namely, were some students admitted to be athletes at UNC, even though there was little evidence of adequate academic preparation? Indeed, educational testing indicated that 8-10% of football and basketball players were reading at below a 3rd grade level, far below the levels needed to engage meaningfully in a UNC education. We should applaud Mary Willingham for bravely and thoughtfully bringing these troubling findings to the attention of anyone who cares about the well-being of students, not to mention athletes, at UNC.
But let’s be clear. Whether one agrees or disagrees with her conclusions, whether one is a rabid UNC sports fan or ignorant of the harmful impact of big time sports on the mission of UNC, death threats are unconscionable. Every UNC leader must stand up to denounce these death threats. In the face of death threats for engaging in scholarly work, the very essence of the university, every UNC leader should proudly announce, “I too am Mary Willingham.”