UNC Challenged for Smearing Athlete-Literacy Whistleblower

Last Friday, GAP publicly released its March 6 letter sent to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) Chancellor Carol Folt regarding university officials’ efforts to smear whistleblower Mary Willingham. In January, Willingham disclosed to CNN that 8-10% of UNC-CH revenue-sport student-athletes from 2004-12 could not read at a third-grade level. Willingham is the same whistleblower who exposed the “paper-class” scandal at the university just a couple of years earlier. Investigations and reports into that scandal completely vindicated Willingham’s previous claims.

GAP’s letter, authored by President Louis Clark, details how actions by school officials subsequent to the CNN piece are “disgraceful, morally wrong and legally questionable.” The letter identifies three instances where school officials may have harassed or intimidated Willingham, a potential violation of the school’s anti-retaliation policy and the North Carolina state employee whistleblower protection law. Specifically, Clark’s letter takes issue with: an erroneous press release that the school distributed the day after the CNN piece, a UNC-CH faculty meeting where Folt and Vice Chancellor & Provost Jim Dean made a presentation to staff chastising Willingham’s data (while simultaneously ordering an independent investigation), and Dean’s subsequent claims to the media that Willingham was lying.

The letter concludes by urging Folt to investigate school officials’ actions against Willingham to determine whether any violations of policy or law occurred, and provide additional information on the third-party independent board that is looking at Willingham’s data.

GAP worked with the Associated Press on the initial excellent article. Prior to that article being published, GAP had not heard back from UNC-CH. Hours after the AP piece was published, Clark received an email from another UNC-CH Vice Chancellor. Unfortunately, that response overwhelmingly failed to address the concerns raised in GAP’s letter. UNC’s email, and Clark’s response, can be found here.

CNN published another excellent report over the weekend on GAP’s letter. That piece, along with the AP report, are must-reads for individuals concerned about collegiate sport accountability.

Key Quote (Associated Press)School officials’ actions make UNC-Chapel Hill look like a bully, and they will make others hesitant to come forward, the president of the Government Accountability Project wrote in his letter to Chancellor Carol Folt. GAP President Louis Clark urged UNC-CH to investigate whether school officials have harassed or intimidated Mary Willingham, who worked with athletes and researched their reading skills.

“In my 36 years of dealing with whistleblower cases, this course of action seems necessary and palpably prudent, and I implore you to undertake such a step immediately,” Clark wrote in the letter, dated March 6.

(CNN)In their letter, the government watchdog allege[s] at least three instances since January in which it says UNC officials responded poorly to Willingham’s claims that she tutored and researched athletes in revenue-generating sports who were reading at levels as low as third grade.

The group noted that after Willingham spoke to CNN, UNC immediately challenged her, saying in a press release “we don’t believe that claim.”

But GAP President Louis Clark said the comments of UNC Provost James Dean in the ensuing days were particularly offensive.

In January, at a public faculty meeting, Dean verbally attacked Willingham’s credibility and called her research “unworthy of this university,” according to Clark’s letter. Dean also mischaracterized her research as being critical of all athletes when she had been very clear that it dealt with a sample of about 180 athletes, Clark said.

Rockland County Times: A Whistleblower’s Worst Nightmare

This column details the saga of Bank of America/Countrywide Financial whistleblower Michael Winston, who was fired from BofA years ago for refusing to “travel to New York and, basically, lie to the credit ratings agency Moody’s about corporate structure and practices” at Countrywide.

In 2011, a jury found that Winston was wrongfully fired, awarding him $4 million. In a highly criticized and confusing move, a Court of Appeals overturned the verdict. GAP is assisting in the next potential legal move in the case. The column quotes GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit.

Winston is a participant on GAP’s American Whistleblower Tour, and will appear this week at several events in Syracuse as part of that effort.

Key QuoteWinston never saw a dime of his award, and nearly two years later, B of A appealed. In February 2013, the Court of Appeal issued a stunning reversal of the verdict. The court declared Winston had failed to make his case.

“This never happens … this isn’t legal,” Cliff Palefsky, a top employment lawyer in San Francisco told me during a phone conversation. “The appeals court is not supposed to go back and cherry-pick through the evidence the way this court did. And if there is any doubt about a case, they are legally bound to uphold the jury’s verdict.”

None of the legal eagles I spoke to could explain why the Court of Appeal would do such an apparently radical thing.

The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group in D.C., has been watching the Winston case closely. Senior Counsel Richard Condit says he believes the appeal judge wrongly “nullified” the jury’s determination.

“This case is vitally important,” Condit told me on the phone. “Seeing what happened to Winston, who will ever want to come forward and reveal what they know about corporate wrongdoings?” GAP and various legal academicians are trying to figure out a way to get Winston’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

New York Times: N.S.A. Breached Chinese Servers Seen as Security Threat

The latest major story relying on documents provided to the media by NSA whistleblower and GAP client Edward Snowden show how the agency was able to hack into the networks of Chinese telecommunications behemoth Huawei. While the NSA was doing this, “American officials … block[ed] Huawei from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create ‘back doors’ in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.”

Key Quote: One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawei’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.

New York Post: Brooklyn Principal Allegedly Gets Payback on Whistleblowers Yesterday

A principal on Coney Island has allegedly brought staff suspected of whistleblowing into disciplinary meetings. The whistleblowers previously disclosed that the principal instructed staff to change the results of parent surveys and responses on questionnaires. According to the report, “insiders say” that the principal “has banned teachers from going behind the office counter.”


Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.