UNC Chapel Hill leaders may be stressed about their prolonged series of athletics-related academic scandals, but that does not excuse them to pressure employees who shed light on campus problems.

Chancellor Carol Folt must give serious consideration to a letter sent to her earlier this month by the respected Washington, D.C.-based Government Accountability Project, which calls itself the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

According to The Associated Press, GAP President Louis Clark wrote to Folt to say that campus officials appeared to have violated state law in their response to reading specialist Mary Willingham’s revelations about the academic preparation of a limited number of student athletes. Clark was referring to comments made by UNC-CH Provost James W. Dean Jr., who criticized Willingham’s work during a Faculty Council meeting.

In response to the complaint, a UNC-CH spokesman told the AP that the school expects to soon release an external review of Willingham’s data.

North Carolina’s law says state employees should “be free of intimidation or harassment when reporting to public bodies about matters of public concern.” It also says employees can’t be discharged, threatened or discriminated against for reporting problems, including gross mismanagement or gross abuse of authority and fraud, the AP says.

We’ve said here before that UNC-CH appears more concerned about containing the bad publicity regarding its academic and athletic scandals than it does in getting to the heart of the issues and correcting them.

Folt is to be congratulated for recently hiring a law firm that promises to take a new and unbiased look into the matters at hand. But she will not do her institution, or herself for that matter, any good in the long run if she allows her underlings to put undue pressure the messengers who bring bad news.

Willingham has been the bearer of bad news that must be addressed.

Dean’s attack on Willingham’s research was an exercise in misdirection. Regardless of how she conducted her research, other evidence still exists to prove the essence of her claims: Student-athletes were admitted to the university despite being inadequately prepared for university academics.

Folt must heed the GAP letter and direct her minions to fix the problems the whistleblower has courageously brought to their attention.