UNC suspends whistleblower's research after findings demonstrate low reading proficiency for athletes

The University of North Carolina (UNC) has suspended the research of a whistleblower after she raised concerns over the literacy levels of Tar Heel athletes.

CNN reports that, with the University of North Carolina’s permission, reading specialist and athletic tutor Mary Willingham analyzed test scores from athletes in revenue generating sports like football and basketball from 2004-2012. She found that nearly 25 percent of athletes lack the necessary skills to take community college courses.

According to Willingham, a full 60 percent of 183 football or basketball players held fourth-to eighth-grade reading levels. Between eight to 10 percent of athletes held the equivalent of a third-grade reading level or below. She also recalled a men's basketball player she'd worked with who had been unable to read or write.

UNC has disputed Willingham's findings; on Thursday evening, it suspended her research until an Institutional Review Board approved her findings.

Willingham told WRAL News that she has been looking for work outside UNC "because the pressure to keep students eligible had eclipsed learning and academic integrity. The cheating in ‘no show’ paper classes and in our mentor program (e.g., writing papers for players) had become overwhelming.”

UNC head basketball coach Roy Williams also disputed Willingham’s findings.

"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.”

In a university-wide email, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt,  said Willingham's allegations are being taken "very seriously,” but the university is "unable to reconcile these claims with either our own facts or with the data currently being cited as the source for the claims."

"Nevertheless, we are investigating all the claims being made," Folt said, and promised she "will take all appropriate actions” if they are found to have merit.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter @CalebBonham