By Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - A student-athlete advocacy group is pursuing a civil-rights complaint against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and claiming discrimination against male athletes and particularly black male athletes who were placed in courses requiring only a research paper.

The Student-Athletes Human Rights Project filed the complaint Friday to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It alleges gender and race discrimination because the classes didn’t provide a quality education.

The “paper classes” in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department were often billed as lecture courses but were treated as independent studies with no classroom time and significant athlete enrollments. Those classes were among findings of fraud in the department dating to the late 1990s.

That led to several university reviews, including an investigation currently being conducted by U.S. Justice Department veteran Kenneth Wainstein.

UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman Karen Moon did not respond to the complaint, saying campuse officials have not received any information from the federal agency about the issue.

According to a copy of the complaint, black student-athletes were “disproportionately enrolled” in the courses compared to white student-athletes. Male student-athletes also made up more enrollments than female athletes, a sign they “are not provided with the same educational opportunities,” according to the complaint.

The complaint cites research by UNC reading specialist Mary Willingham on academically at-risk school athletes from 2004-12. Willingham has said the classes helped keep athletes eligible despite many reading at below-grade levels.

The school has disputed Willingham’s findings on athlete literacy levels and hired outside consultants to review her research. Willingham has stood firm that her findings are correct.

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