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UNC-Chapel Hill Investigates Allegedly Flawed Study on Student-Athlete Literacy

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) has suspended researcher Mary Willingham’s study on literacy among student-athletes, which she says revealed that less than half of the athletes studied were able to read above an eighth-grade reading level. While the university alleges that there were problems with Willingham’s methodology and that she failed to follow certain procedural requirements, it has been accused of trying to suppress the information to protect its image.

UNC-Chapel Hill administrators argue that Willingham’s calculations are flawed and that her results could be off by as much as a factor of 10, rendering them meaningless. In an email to the Associated Press, however, Willingham states that her research was “100 percent correct.” Further, the university said that Willingham must receive approval from the school’s Institutional Review Board before continuing because her subjects could be identified. The IRB initially allowed Willingham’s study without direct oversight because it determined that she was not collecting data directly from identifiable subjects.

It’s unsurprising that some suspect UNC-Chapel Hill of attempting to cover up inadequate academic programs; a 2012 report revealed a pattern going back to 1997 of athletes enrolling in courses that never met and receiving inflated grades. Still, Chancellor Carol Folt insisted in a statement last week that Willingham’s data is grossly inconsistent with the data gathered and reported by the UNC’s admissions office. The university has pledged to have the data and methodology independently evaluated.

FIRE will be closely following the case; check back to The Torch for updates.

Image: South Building, UNC-Chapel Hill - Wikipedia

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