UNC Football Player’s Shocking Term Paper Is Released by Whistleblower Who Alleges Widespread Academic Fraud
James Nye, Daily Mail (London), March 28, 2014
An awful 146-word term paper littered with grammatical errors that is barely even readable has become a potent visual symbol of the University of North Carolina’s fake classes scandal.
The one-paragraph essay on civil rights icon Rosa Parks earned an A- and was exposed by former UNC professor Mary Willingham, who spent 10 years teaching UNC’s athletes before she turned whistleblower on alleged classroom corruption.
The shocking essay came to light during an ESPN documentary timed to coincide with the March Madness basketball competition. It contains allegations that UNC athletes in danger of failing were encouraged to sign up for fake tutor groups designed to let students pass.
The so-called ‘paper classes’ were essentially no-show study groups that allowed semi-literate and in some cases, illiterate athletes to pass, thereby boosting their Grade Point Average to meet the NCAA’s eligibility requirements.
The anonymous essay, titled, ‘Rosa Parks: My Story’ attempts to recount the important moment on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Parks refused to give her seat up for a white man.
However, it fails to even place the event in the past or give any gravitas to the momentous moment in American history.
‘Some of these college students could read at a second or third grade level,’ Willingham, a UNC academic adviser since 2003 told ESPN.
‘Students were taking classes that really didn’t exist. They were called independent studies at that time and they just had to write a paper . . . There was no attendance.’
During the course of her ESPN interview, Williams confirmed the existence of ‘easy paper classes’ and alleged that students were guided to these classes by their academic advisors.
‘Their job isn’t necessarily to make Deunta Williams a better person, a smarter person,’ Williams told ESPN.
‘Their job is to make sure I’m eligible to play.’
Deunta Williams, played football at UNC from 2007 to 2010 and has admitted to the scam, now says he is ashamed to have been involved with it.
Willingham’s whistleblowing began in 2011 after she became appalled that UNC, rather than educating its athletes was keeping them from needing to study at all.
She began to release information to journalists about basketball and football stars who read at a grade school level.
She confessed herself to steering many young men into lecture classes that simply did not exist.
And most galling for her, given UNC’s proud history pushing for desegregation, that the courses were in African-American history.
Willingham began to feed information about alleged academic fraud to the News & Observer in Raleigh.
UNC is heavily invested in the $16 billion business that is college sports but Willingham’s revelations threaten that.
‘I was part of something that I came to be ashamed of,’ said Willingham to Bloomberg News in February.
‘We weren’t serving the kids. We weren’t educating them properly. We were pushing them toward graduation, and that’s not the same as giving them an education.’
When she publicly came forward, UNC stripped of her supervisory title and denied the allegations of widespread academic fraud.
UNC officials noted in a statement released after the ESPN report aired that little new information was revealed and noted that the university has used the episode as a chance to improve.
‘We have instituted numerous reforms, including new governance and accountability standards in our Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes,’ Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs Joel Curran said in the statement.
In January senior UNC officials publicly condemned her for suggesting that football and basketball stars couldn’t read well enough to get through college classes honestly.
The fake classes were investigated in 2012 and Department head Julius Nyang’oro was listed as the instructor for the classes, although he calender revealed him to be abroad during some of these.
He has been charged with a felony for defrauding the university, and is currently fighting the charge in court.
Indeed, North Carolina has been in an academic crisis mode for more than three years.
An NCAA investigation into the football program in 2010 expanded into a probe of how the nation’s first public university provides academic help to athletes. It led to a discovery of fraud in a department with classes featuring significant athlete enrollments.
Now, the debate of balancing academics and big-time sports at the university has been reignited by comments from a reading specialist about the reading levels of football and basketball players.
‘It really has just been like we’ve been under siege for the past three years,’ said Lissa Lamkin Broome, a banking law professor and UNC’s faculty athletic representative in January.
‘Now to the extent that we’ve uncovered problems during this siege, that’s a good thing — to find those problems and weed them out and to try to put processes in place to hopefully ensure . . . that some of this stuff doesn’t happen again.’
In a CNN story that aired in January, Willingham said her research of 183 football or basketball players at UNC from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level.
She said she worked with one men’s basketball player early in her 10-year tenure who couldn’t read or write.
‘I don’t believe it’s true,’ UNC coach Roy Williams said in January.
‘It’s totally unfair. I’m really proud of the kids we’ve brought in here. . . . We haven’t brought anybody in like that. We’ve had one senior since I’ve been here that did not graduate.
‘Anybody can make any statement they want to make but that is not fair. The University of North Carolina doesn’t do that. The University of North Carolina doesn’t stand for that.’
Willingham has said in interviews that she has received death threats and hate mail.
UNC police spokesman Randy Young said investigators have contacted her and ‘are responding appropriately.’
Broome said Willingham had shared her findings previously but hasn’t provided data that led to her conclusions.
‘If Mary’s data uncovers issues that would be helpful to us in our admissions process or in our academic support process, then I want to know about those so we can benefit from whatever work she has done . . . in moving forward and doing things better,’ Broome said.
Admissions director Stephen Farmer, a review group member, said his office won’t hesitate to tell coaches no if a recruit can’t handle coursework.
‘We do not rubber-stamp anyone for admission,’ Farmer said.
‘We evaluate students for admission and we decide whether the students are capable of succeeding academically at UNC. That’s about as plain as I can make it.’
The topic of balancing academics and athletics isn’t unique to UNC, such as the AP reporting in 2011 that 39 schools had at least 50 percent of football players clustering in one, two or three majors.
But the scope of problems here has often left officials sifting through what happened as much as looking ahead.
In December, a grand jury indicted Nyang’oro for receiving $12,000 to teach one of the no-show classes in summer 2011, a lecture course that was instead treated as an independent study requiring a paper. The enrollment was 18 football players and one ex-player.