Editorial: UNC focus remains questionable

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 11:17 PM

Whistleblowers took another body blow to their respective causes last week. We’re not surprised, we hope it doesn’t deter others and when other whistleblowers are correct in their accusations, we fully support their efforts.

We have long promoted transparency and acts of good faith in this space. We believe Mary Willingham is trying to help the University of North Carolina more than she is trying to hurt her employer and the place where the reading specialist has done extensive research.

Willingham’s approach isn’t as sneaky as Mark Felt, the gentleman a generation will fondly recall as “Deep Throat” from the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. Her impact will have financial repercussions, just as did the revelations of Cynthia Cooper at Worldcom and Sherron Watkins at Enron in 2002.

She hasn’t felt forced to flee the country yet, like Edward Snowden. In fact, her response to rejection of her research privileges is to gain them back.

Willingham believes her research to be accurate and show low literacy levels for athletes. She was a learning specialist from 2003 to 2010 in the athletes’ tutoring program. She’s not judging their X’s and O’s; she’s seeing their ability to be educated. It’s not good.

And what she’s divulged hasn’t moved the shock meter. Not after the proud flagship university of our state system tumbled into the mud with improprieties in the athletics program and fraud in the academic program.

Carol Folt, the new chancellor on the block, was quiet for a long time. On Thursday, she said the university accepts responsibility for academic oversight failure that went on for years. It was before her arrival, but nonetheless, the words were long overdue.

She’s requested investigation into Willingham’s claims. That’s positive, but only if it has more spine than previous UNC probes into this scandal.

From the first day, or tweet, that started it all, the university has chosen damage control above integrity. The lost vision in taking that risk has been hard to recover.

The Chapel Hill campus can again be a bastion of proud academic standing. Parts of it remain so now, despite the spin doctors.

This is a university where fully coming clean of its indiscretions, all of them, must be the primary focus. UNC has more to worry about than Mary Willingham.