By Ken Reed

Mary Willingham, a former reading specialist for the academic support program for athletes at the University of North Carolina (UNC), has won the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award for exposing special treatment for athletes at UNC. Willingham exposed the fact that UNC athletes were enrolled in more than 50 “no-show” classes so they could maintain their athletic eligibility at UNC. The annual award is presented by the Drake Group to college faculty or staff members who take a courageous stand to defend academic integrity at their institutions, often risking job security in doing so.

“Mary Willingham has demonstrated courageous behavior in standing up for what is right,” said Allen Sack, president of the Drake Group, an organization founded in 1999 to defend academic integrity in higher education from the coercive effects of commercial college sports. “The Drake Group is well aware that critics of commercial college sport have sometimes been targets of direct or indirect pressure for merely upholding basic academic principles. It is the mission of the Drake Group to defend people like Mary Willingham and to recognize their fortitude.”

Williamson, who still works at UNC but not with athletes, reported for years that she met athletes who told her that they had never read a book and didn’t know what a paragraph was. She said she saw diagnostic tests that showed they were unable to do college-level work, even though they stayed eligible to play sports. Williamson also said the academic support system provided improper help and tolerated plagiarism.

The League of Fans sends kudos to Ms. Willingham for her brave and principled efforts on the behalf of academic integrity.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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