- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2014

A former professor at the University of North Carolina has brought forward a blunt example of how the college sped big-name athletes with subpar grades to the goal line of graduation, despite lacking scholastic aptitudes. One essay on Rosa Parks, fewer than 150 words and filled with grammatical puzzlers, nonetheless received an A-minus, she said.

And that’s just one example of many of how UNC pushed sports-savvy students into a special program that passed them through coursework they couldn’t complete, all to keep them eligible to play, she said, in various media reports over the years. The latest, from ESPN, included the shocker essay — released to coincide with the March Madness basketball season, The Daily Mail reported.

Mary Willingham, a former professor, kicked off her whistle-blowing charges on ESPN with the proffering of an essay on civil rights activist Rosa Parks that received an A-minus — but that seemed hardly to meet that caliber of that grade, The Daily Mail reported.

The essay, about 150 words in length, included this text: “[Parks] didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giver her seat to white people. ‘I’m going to have you arrested,’ said the driver. ‘You may do that,’ Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them ‘why do you all push us around?’ The police officer replied and said ‘I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.’”

The essay ended on that note, The Daily Mail reported.

“We weren’t serving the kids,” said Ms. Willingham, who has been releasing in bits and spurts of information about the program to various journalists since 2011 and how it served basketball and football stars, The Daily Mail reported. But her accusations really took off just recently, when she provided information to ESPN about the school’s activities.

“We weren’t educating them properly. We were pushing them toward graduation and that’s not the same as giving them an education,” she said, The Daily Mail reported.

After going public with her claims, UNC officials stripped her of her leadership role at the college and went into denial mode. But a former football player, Deunta Williams, who played for the school from 2007 to 2010, backed her claims by saying he was ashamed that he took part in the program.

UNC, meanwhile, said her interview with ESPN didn’t reveal anything that hadn’t already been known by administrators — and that they’ve taken steps to curtail the practice and make sure student-athletes obtain their grades honestly.

But Ms. Willingham also said the damage that’s done can’t easily be undone.

She said in an interview to CNN in January that she found that of 183 football and basketball players who attended the college between 2004 and 2012, about 60 percent of them could only read between a fourth- and eighth-grade level — and 10 percent read at a third-grade level.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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