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UNC Whistleblower Speaks on Failure to Compensate Student Athletes

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Mary Willingham, the former UNC learning specialist who blew the whistle on the school’s “paper classes” scheme 20 years ago is speaking out again.

Willingham believes colleges fail to prepare athletes for the real world. She spoke out against UNC keeping student athletes eligible despite poor academic performance and has detailed her experiences working with athletes who she said were “unable to read” but were admitted to the school because they were such skilled athletes.

She described her work with student athletes saying that some of them were just learning to read. Her whistleblower report included accusations that the school was promising the athlete applicants world-class educations, but not following through.

Lawmakers Seek to Change College Athlete Experience

Willingham is a part of the effort to reduce academic fraud and other unethical actions. She recently spoke as part of a panel on Capitol Hill regarding Senator Chris Murphy’s report “How Colleges Keep Athletes on the Field and Out of the Classroom” that included a section on the UNC scandal from two decades prior.

According to Murphy, who has created a series of reports regarding issues with collegiate athletic programs, the treatment of college athletes is a “festering civil crisis.” He’s concerned that student athletes, many of whom are minorities, are being taken financial advantage of by adults.

According to NCAA rules, student athletes cannot be compensated financially for their time spent playing sports, despite the amount of money earned by the schools because of the athletic programs. Schools are now allowed to enhance scholarship values and provide cost-of-attendance stipends, but student athletes cannot earn money based on their name, image, or likeness.

Murphy and other lawmakers are trying to change that.

Those against student athletes being paid argue they are receive a free education, which equates to tens of thousands of dollars.

Whistleblower Claims Student Athletes Set Up to Fail in the Real World

Willingham does not agree that free education makes the situation fair or even ethical. She believes colleges are failing to provide that “world class education” student athletes are promised. Others agree and point out that student athletes aren’t given the option of pursuing a major based on their interests or natural skills and some are enrolled in phony courses taught by professors that aren’t objectively evaluating their performance.

When Willingham came forward as a whistleblower she claimed that some student athletes had dozens or more “paper classes” on their transcripts that were classes for which they didn’t need to attend or produce any work.

Willingham said she worked with one student who intended to major in business and open a sports complex after she returned to her hometown, but the student couldn’t read and wasn’t able to afford glasses. Another student lived in his car and likely never went to high school before attending UNC. In both cases, the school profited off the students’ athletic performance and they were left with nothing once they graduated.

Willingham and others participating in the recent panel believe college athletes should be financially compensated and be provided with better educational opportunities and support. She pointed out that the students she worked with all wanted to attend class and get an education while attending UNC and implied it was un-American to not compensate the students for the work they did in the athletic programs.

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