New York Times: She Had to Tell What She Knew
This excellent column details the saga of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) whistleblower Mary Willingham, who for years has fought for accountability involving the school’s athletics program. Willingham was not only responsible for exposing the now infamous “paper-class” scandal (in which revenue-sport athletes were enrolled in classes that did not meet), but came forward earlier this year to detail problems involving past athletes’ literacy levels.
GAP sent a letter to UNC-CH earlier this year questioning actions that school officials took against Willingham which may constitute harassment and retaliation, a violation of North Carolina law and school policy. The column touches on some of the retaliation Willingham experienced.
Key Quote: Once she became an on-the-record whistle-blower, things began to accelerate: In April 2013, she received an integrity award from the Drake Group, which advocates for reform in college athletics. Two months later, she received her first negative performance review and was relocated to a basement office where she was given primarily clerical duties. “They wanted me gone,” she said. (A university spokesman denies that the school created a hostile work environment.)
Then, in January, Willingham was the subject of a CNN report in which she alleged that, of 183 North Carolina football and basketball players she had researched since 2005, 60 percent read between the fourth- and eighth-grade levels, and between 8 percent and 10 percent read below the third-grade level. That report set off a firestorm inside the university. At a faculty meeting shortly after the report aired, the school’s provost, James W. Dean Jr., described her data as “a travesty.” (Willingham responds that the provost only looked at one of her data points, and that her assessment derived from, among other things, counseling the students in question.)
“That meeting was like a public trial,” said Jay Smith, a history professor who has been a leading critic of the athletic department. “The purpose was to discredit her.” By this time, it was clear to Willingham that she needed to leave. Her last day at the university is Tuesday.
On Monday, the Washington Post ran a front-page story detailing the questionable relationship between the nonprofit International Relief and Development (IRD) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). After the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the relatively new IRD saw its annual revenue shoot up from $1.2 million to $706 million from reconstruction and development grants from USAID. The story detailed how IRD operated with little oversight, paid “generous salaries and millions in bonuses” to employees, and that USAID employees were joining IRB for cushy positions.
Today’s follow-up article expands on a key revelation from the first: IRD asked employees leaving the organization to sign “confidentiality agreements stipulating that they could be sued for making disparaging remarks about the organization,” specifically to “funding organizations” or government officials. According to attorneys, it appears that these agreements – effectively gag orders – violate federal protections for whistleblowers. Two federal agency auditors are now investigating IRD operations.
A judge has refused to dismiss a whistleblower claim against for-profit college operator Education Management. The lawsuit alleges the company “concealed prohibited compensation practices such as tying recruitment bonuses directly to the number of students enrolled.” Education Management is partially owned by Goldman Sachs.
Former employees of a wildcat sanctuary in Minnesota filed a whistleblower lawsuit yesterday, alleging they were removed after raising concerns that the institution’s executive director spent sanctuary funds for personal use. Weeks ago, the state’s Office of Attorney General confirmed that the executive director “had spent thousands of dollars in sanctuary funds for personal use despite earlier public denials by board members.”
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.