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Mary Willingham: Profile of a Whistle Blower

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If you don’t know by now, Mary Willingham is the person who confirmed the UNC Academic fraud scandal and broke it wide open. She’s the John Snowden of UNC athletics. While Snowden informed us all that we were being monitored by the NSA, Willingham exposed the corruption of the Chapel Hill's “mother of all academic fraud violations.”

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Mary Willingham's role in the exposure of the fraud only confirmed what The Raleigh News & Observer (N&O) reporter Dan Kane and two other N&O investigative reporters found. The initial accusations, however, came from UNC defensive end Michael McAdoo when he filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in 2011 seeking reinstatement to the UNC football team after the NCAA had declared him ineligible for accepting improper benefits and academic dishonesty. Because of public records, the door was opened for Dan Kane and his team for scrutiny.

Willingham was a member of the UNC "team" as an academic counselor. She resigned her position and later filed a lawsuit claiming she left due to a hostile environment. Paul Barrett of Bloomberg wrote this article describing Willingham's meeting with UNC chancellor Carol Holt.

Another Bloomberg  article describes why she felt the need to blow the whistle. If you decide to read the article, read all seven pages. It chronicles her path towards blowing the whistle. Throughout the article, you can see instances of a "shoot the messenger" mentality within the UNC administration.

CNN article Death Threats and Denial shows the ramifications of Mrs. Willingham's whistle blowing. The university's effort to save the basketball program  has been clear from the beginning and the article shows that Willingham, as of January 2014, has received four death threats and more than 30 "alarming" emails. That being said, she also said she was receiving growing support from across the country.

After two investigations (Internal investigation commissioned by Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs, and William L. Andrews, senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities,  and one commissioned by former North Carolina governor Jim Martin, in collaboration with accounting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP), the school seemed to feel the need for another investigation after the accusations by Rashad McCants that he took phony classes during his time at UNC.

In response to all the media pressure, UNC commissioned an independent investigation by Kenneth L. Wainstein. The results from the Wainstein report caused further review by SACS and the NCAA. We all now know the sanction (one year probation) levied by SACS. We are now awaiting UNC's response to the NCAA's  five high level allegations which claim a lack of institutional control and impermissible benefits favoring athletes.

Willingham and her partner, UNC professor of history Jay Smith wrote "Cheated: the UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big- Time College Sports " which is about the corruption involved in college athletics and academics in general, and it specifically chronicles the UNC scandal.

Here is a 27-page Excerpt from "Cheated". There were reviews by the Wall Street Journal (pay site), the N&O, Bloomberg along with an interview with Willingham and Smith at WRAL which you can see by clicking the link. It is a 31 minute interview well worth watching.

Willingham and Smith have created a blog site where they are writing about current issues involving the NCAA, such as pay for play, the Northwestern's players efforts concerning unionization, and other current actions going on in the "Athletics vs Academics" debate. You can find this letter from Smith to former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorpe at Willingham's and Smith's website: paperclassinc.com.

I think it is important for fans to become knowledgeable about the challenges facing the academic side when it comes to athletics. It is also important to recognize the amount of revenues generated for universities from the two money sports. They not only fund the non-revenue sports, but generate donations from alumni. Some schools also take a portion of the athletic revenue to help fund the school's general operations. You may, or may not, agree with the positions taken by Willingham and Smith, but you have to agree there is a need for serious discussion. Paperclassinc.com is a great place to engage and give your thoughts.

After reading all the linked references, you can make up your own mind about all the people involved in the UNC scandal, including Mary Willingham. There are many named actors in this historic drama - too many to list -  athletes, coaches, counselors, administrators, commissions, commissioned investigators, on and on.

Will the NCAA do anything significant? Punishment for the football program and the women's basketball program seem to be the focus for the fans. Womens' basketball is already suffering from attrition as noted by SBN's TarHheelblog.

Many believe the men's basketball program will get a slap on the wrist because Roy Williams isn't named in the NOA, except for a mention of an interview with NCAA investigators. Sanctions probably won't be directed at Roy Williams, but the basketball program likely will get more than a slap on the wrist.

Dan Kane, the Raleigh News & Observer (N&O) chief investigative reporter, is said to be the most knowledgeable when it comes to the scandal. He says UNC basketball  is not out of the woods just yet.