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UNC Responds To CNN Report

Thursday, January 16, 2014 6:05pm
By: Mark Owens

CHAPEL HILL  --  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is again having to defend the academic climate around its student-athletes, this time following a January 8 report by CNN.  The cable news outlet’s report contains information passed along to them by Mary Willingham, a UNC employee who works in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. 

In the report, Willingham cites data from 2004-2012 for 183 UNC athletes - 85 percent of them were either men's basketball or football players. Of that group, Willingham claimed that 60 percent read between a fourth and eighth-grade level, while 8-10 percent read below a third-grad level. 

In a July, 18, 2013 email obtained by the News & Observer, Willingham laid out those numbers as well as the claim that 39 percent of the athletes were either learning disabled or had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

In the wake of this report, UNC today issued a press release of its own, claiming that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has analyzed the reading skills of its student athletes, and that its data paints a vastly different picture from the one portrayed in the CNN report. 

Specifically, the press release claims that all 154 student-athletes who enrolled in fall 2013 met CNN’s reading skills threshold, which CNN defined as a student with an Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Critical Reading score or Writing score of 400 or more and/or a 16 or higher on the American College Testing (ACT) exam. 

In the release, Stephen Farmer, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions states, “We evaluate every student as carefully as we know how. The primary criterion for admission for all students, including student-athletes, is the student's capacity to succeed academically at the University. We only admit students who we believe have the capacity to succeed."

Also this afternoon, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt sent an email to the Chapel Hill campus community, and in it she states: 

“I am asking for your patience and understanding today. I still have many questions, and I am seeking to understand the complete picture of what additional work we need to do in this area. We have learned many lessons in the past few years, and I am actively building on those lessons to continue to improve our community. It is our responsibility to address these issues, the people involved, and the media attention being generated by them, very thoughtfully and thoroughly. Our goals are to be proactive in our analysis and solutions, to protect the privacy rights of individual students, and to apply the rigorous standards of assessment expected here at Carolina. Whether we agree or disagree, we must welcome healthy debate, respect each other and in that way show the true character of our Carolina community.”

To read the full press release from UNC, click here

To view the message sent to the Carolina community by Chancellor Folt, click here