CHAPEL HILL: Willingham to leave UNC at end of semester - WFLA News Channel 8

Willingham to leave UNC, says work environment has become 'unpleasant'

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Reading specialist Mary Willingham said her research of 183 football or basketball players from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels. Reading specialist Mary Willingham said her research of 183 football or basketball players from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

The reading specialist who questioned the literacy level of athletes who were admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will leave the university at the end of the semester.

Mary Willingham said she met with UNC Chancellor Carol Folt on Monday, and it was apparent she and Folt "clearly have different ideas and opinions."

"She has a job to do and I hope that she does the right thing -- academics should be in charge of this great university, not athletics," Willingham said.

She said she will meet with her supervisor after she posts her grades next week to submit her letter of resignation and finalize details.

The university confirmed that Willingham informed Folt that she would take time off, but she did tell her she was resigning.

"The university is unaware of any changes in her employment status at this time," UNC said in a statement.

Willingham told The Herald-Sun that she has been met by "hostile" UNC fans and her work environment has been "unpleasant" since CNN first reported on her research.

Willingham told CNN in January that her research of 183 football or basketball players from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level.

She said there is no way for them to succeed in a college classroom; the only place they can succeed is on the football field.

But the university asserts that Willingham's research data doesn't support claims of low athlete literacy levels.

UNC said experts from Georgia State, Minnesota and Virginia reviewed her findings, and they found "the data [does] not support the public claims about the students' reading ability."

Nathan Kuncel, Lee Alan Branum-Martin and Dennis Kramer analyzed data of 176 athletes, including baseball and volleyball players, and was based on testing to screen for learning disabilities or other problems. The school said it had about 1,800 athletes attend the school during the 8-year period.

In response to their findings, Willingham said the experts "did not come close to replicating my analysis. They were unable to do so because they were denied access to the full range of test scores ... that formed the basis of my critical judgment."

She said, "The university has been incredibly defensive and reactive in trying to discredit certain people rather than being proactive and accepting responsibility. Full disclosure and transparency is necessary in order to protect the academic integrity of the institution."

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