UNC Failing Student Athletes?

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev | Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev | Wikipedia Commons

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks would be interested to learn that a college essay written about her has gained national attention – and not for the right reasons.

A student athlete at the University of North Carolina composed an atrociously written 150-word essay about the figure and mustered an A- grade from his professor.

But why would a simple essay given high marks garner such publicity?

This grade speaks to a much larger issue at UNC, an institution criticized for passing student athletes while focusing little on expanding their skills in the classroom.

Thanks to Mary Willingham, learning specialist at the university, the general public now knows even more about how schools carelessly push athletes through the system. ESPN first covered this story in March 2014, in which Willingham discussed how students enrolled in “independent study” classes. These student athletes needed only to write papers – no attendance or effort necessary.

“If you had a reading level of third-grade and took a lot of these classes, you would pass and graduate,” Deunta Williams, former football player at UNC, shared with ESPN.

CBS Sports writer Will Brinson tweeted about the UNC story

CBS Sports writer Will Brinson tweeted about the UNC story

Williams said advisors were more focused on student athletes’ eligibility to play on teams rather than taking classes to challenge their brains.

Willingham added that a number of individuals were complicit in this scandal unfolding for many years, ranging from coaches and deans to individuals in the African-American Studies department.

“The NCAA doesn’t care about the truth coming out,” Williams said.

As Policy Mic indicates, the NCAA makes millions of dollars off of these types of sports programs, but in the process, some institutions cheat their athletes out of a valuable education.

But the scandal has not been directed toward only UNC, but also on whistleblower Willingham.

Jack Baer of The Daily Cardinal reversed the finger-pointing when he suggested that Willingham’s statistics on athletes’ low reading levels proved false.

“Her sample was also tainted because she was working specifically with academically at-risk incoming freshmen,” Baer wrote in his April 14 article.

Slate blogger Jordan Weissmann continued the blame game by noting that this 150-word essay generating so much buzz was likely a draft – not the final product.

Backlash against Willingham has entered from multiple arenas, but the education specialist has managed to share stories – both supporting her and criticizing her – on Willingham’s Twitter.

Mary Willingham - tweet

Articles, including the Slate piece, demonstrate how ESPN’s initial report was misleading, based on how the Rosa Parks essay was a sample Willingham kept on file. This may have occurred “possibly through an accident of editing,” as Slate indicated.

The truth can be hard to discern, but one thing is clear.

Sometimes the student should not be the only party graded. Perhaps the institution that holds the “red pen” should receive a report card as well.

What measures can universities take to ensure their students and administrators are kept in check?

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