By MARTHA WAGGONER
The University of North Carolina so far has failed to address concerns raised by an accountability advocacy group about athletics and academics, the head of the group said in a follow-up letter.
Louis Clark, president of the Government Accountability Project, said the response last week from UNC-Chapel Hill disappointed him, and the concerns he raised “remain overwhelmingly unaddressed.”
In a letter dated March 6, Clark wrote that UNC officials appeared to have violated state law when they criticized the work of reading specialist Mary Willingham, who said her research shows that some basketball and football players couldn’t read at a third-grade level.
He urged UNC-CH to investigate whether officials have harassed or intimidated Willingham and demanded that the school release the names of a third-party independent board that school officials have said is investigating Willingham’s analysis of athletes’ literacy.
“If UNC-CH intends to be as ‘transparent as possible,’ what is preventing the school from releasing this information?” he wrote to the school.
UNC spokesman Joel Curran responded Friday, two weeks after Clark sent his first letter, that the school “is committed to accountability across campus to ensure that all students receive the support they need to succeed at Carolina. To that end, we will be as transparent as possible in our processes. ”
He said the school would make public its findings of an external review of Willingham’s data, and he pointed to the hiring of an independent counsel “to conduct a new inquiry.”
The school originally hired Kenneth Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, in February to conduct an independent review of irregularities in an academic department featuring classes with significant athlete enrollments. It wasn’t clear whether his investigation will include Willingham’s situation, although UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon indicated Monday that it could.
Wainstein “will decide how he proceeds, to whom he talks, what questions he asks,” she said, directing further questions to the independent counsel. Wainstein didn’t respond Monday to questions from The Associated Press.
Individuals working independently, and not a board, are reviewing Willingham’s data, she said. The school will release their names with their reviews, Moon said.
As far as whether UNC officials harassed or intimidated Willingham, she said UNC-CH “is committed to complying with all applicable state and federal laws. We decline to speculate about claims to the contrary.”
In a CNN story in January, Willingham said her research on 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.
The nonprofit GAP, based in Washington, D.C., describes itself the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.