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“This chancellor has totally sold out.”

Mary Willingham.jpgCarol Folt continues to make her mark down in Carolina. After a hour-long meeting in which she is said to have repeatedly berated Mary Willingham — the whistleblower who denounced the existence of hundreds of fake classes at UNC and the admission to the school of money-sport athletes who were barely literate — Willingham announced her resignation from her longtime post at the university.

I know well what Willingham went through. When Carol cancelled the writing editor program that I had initiated and paid for in full for nine years in the Art History, Religion and Math departments at the College — thereby firing three devoted DEP editors whose work had won the highest praise from students and faculty alike — my wife and I spoke to Folt for close to an hour. Each issue that we raised was parried in a slippery fashion, either dishonestly as a point of logic or fact, or by changing the subject. At a certain point, we gave up in exhaustion, subdued by the the realization that Carol had staked out her position and no reasoning would get her to change her mind. There are few discussions more dispiriting than talking to someone with no integrity. In fact, as this letter from Folt should make clear, none of the reasons Carol gave for ending the writing program was the real one; her diktat was entirely political. She and Jim Wright could not abide a successful pedagogical innovation put in place by a vocal critic. My program’s success made their progress-free administration look bad.

Bloomberg reports on Willingham’s trial by Folt:

… Willingham confirmed her imminent departure after an hour-long meeting with Carol Folt, the university’s chancellor. UNC described the encounter as “productive,” but Willingham indicated it had been acrimonious…

UNC has questioned Willingham’s credibility, even as it has conceded the core of her revelations. Top university officials have repeatedly tried to change the focus of the controversy from the corruption of courses and the padding of transcripts to Willingham’s separate allegations that a substantial percentage of football and basketball players she worked with over the years could not read at anything close to a college level. The university has disputed research Willingham did on a selected group of at-risk student athletes, saying that she misinterpreted key test data. She, in turn, has stood by her unpublished work and countered that UNC has willfully distorted her findings.

In an e-mail, Willingham confirmed that she planned to resign as an undergraduate counselor, effective at the end of the semester, and said that she had not been forced out. “It was time to end this hostility,” Willingham said. “This chancellor has totally sold out.”

The Raleigh News & Observer also noted the story:

… Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC who is collaborating with Willingham on a book about the scandal, said she made the decision to resign after the meeting with Folt.

Smith said Folt spent much of the meeting berating Willingham for her comments about the scandal in recent months, which included interviews with national media that gave the scandal a wider audience and had become a major embarrassment for the university…

“There was no attempt to repair the relationship or to build a bridge,” Smith said of Willingham’s meeting with Folt on Monday. “Instead, from what I understand from Mary, it was just a tongue lashing, and I think that’s what kind of tipped the scales for Mary. When she realized that even Folt is beyond reach there isn’t much point in continuing.”…

Earlier this month, the university released reports from three outside experts challenging Willingham’s claims that the majority of a subset of athletes - many of them football and basketball players - who were tested for learning disabilities could not read at the high school level. The experts said Willingham had likely misread the test scores and had used a test that was not recommended for determining reading skill at the grade level.

Willingham had said the experts weren’t given access to all of the information she used to determine how well the athletes were reading. Her data involved roughly 180 athletes tested over an eight-year-period, but it was not vetted by an experienced co-investigator. Neither the full data set nor the underlying tests the athletes took have been made public…

Willingham, 52, had worked for roughly seven years as a learning specialist to athletes before taking a position outside of the athletes’ tutoring program. She told The N&O she left the program because staff there were doing nothing about the cheating that she witnessed.

Addendum: Bloomberg’s reporter adds a final comment:

For an excellent analysis of this sad and outrageous situation, please read a blog post by Willingham’s friend and backer Jay Smith, a tenured UNC history professor. “The clash between Willingham and the university has never really been about statistics,” Smith writes. “The clash is all about the current model of collegiate athletics and whether the university can tolerate in its midst an insider who is determined to expose the defects of the collegiate model. The vehemence of the assault on Willingham shows how desperately UNC administrators, and UNC sports fans, cling to the myth that all is basically well in the Emerald City. Willingham urges us to look behind the curtain.”

Based on my own examination of the facts—described in this Bloomberg Businessweek cover story and related online dispatches — I believe Smith is putting it politely. Too politely. There’s something very much un-well in Oz.


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