UNC Releases Statement Amid Allegations Swirling Around Education of Athletes

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 21: Members of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate during the closing seconds of their 79-77 win over the Providence Friars during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at AT&T Center on March 21, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Following what has been a media firestorm over the past couple of months, the University of North Carolina has released a statement regarding how athletes are progressing academically at the institution.

In the statement, James W. Dean Jr, the school's executive vice chancellor and provost, wrote that an independent analysis has been done, and no systemic problems have been found:

We took the claims seriously and committed publicly to analyzing the data set. Outside experts examined the data and found no evidence to support the literacy claims that have been widely reported in news media accounts and via social media.

We fully accept that there are many important questions about the best way to balance athletics and academics both here at Carolina and across the nation. It is important for the media and the community to be able to ask tough questions and to have a respectful debate on these issues. Carolina is committed to participating actively in that conversation. We also understand that there are lingering questions about our programs, which is why we initiated an independent inquiry that is ongoing.

Back in January, CNN's Sara Ganim reported on the apparent educational issues going on at North Carolina. In Ganim's article, Mary Willingham, a learning specialist for the school, spoke about how some athletes had the reading comprehension of a grade-schooler.

Ganim tweeted out Willingham's response to the most recent report:

Her statement read in part, per Dan Kane of The News & Observer:

The fact that they engaged in this exercise without ever seeking input from me or my research partner, and without the raw scores, or an examination of the full battery of tests (on a majority of these same athletes)...speaks volumes about the true motivations behind today's press release.

After Willingham's bombshell came this image from an ESPN Outside the Lines investigation. At first, it was believed to be a final paper for an African-American Studies class that received an A-:

Slate's Jordan Weissmann later reported that the the paper was only an initial draft of what would become the final essay for the course. The student earned an A- for the class and not necessarily the paper that was shown on ESPN.

Regardless of that fact, the perception remained that North Carolina placed a premium on passing student-athletes in order to keep them eligible to play their respective sport, even if it was to the student-athlete's long-term detriment.

While some will question the validity of a report into UNC commissioned by the school itself, it should be pointed out that the three experts are professors at Minnesota, Georgia State and Virginia, respectively. Each of the experts' individual reports can be viewed at the bottom of the official statement.

Given the nature of Willingham's claims and her experience at the school, it's likely that North Carolina's new report will do little to silence many of the Tar Heels' most vocal critics. They'll argue that the school is doing its best damage control in order to stave off any more questions.

It will probably take a lot more for the University of North Carolina to regain the lofty academic status it held before this scandal broke.