Unauthorized Research at a Research University

CNN is doing some investigation of college sports, and here’s the lede of one of their stories:

Early in her career as a learning specialist, Mary Willingham was in her office when a basketball player at the University of North Carolina walked in looking for help with his classwork.
He couldn’t read or write.
“And I kind of panicked. What do you do with that?” she said, recalling the meeting.
Willingham’s job was to help athletes who weren’t quite ready academically for the work required at UNC at Chapel Hill, one of the country’s top public universities.
But she was shocked that one couldn’t read. And then she found he was not an anomaly.

Willingham did some research that showed that 8-10% of UNC-Chapel Hill’s former football and basketball players read at a third-grade level. She’s received death threats and also has been chastised by UNC, which issued a statement saying, in part:

We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction. Our students have earned their place at Carolina and we respect what they bring to the University both academically and athletically.

UNC has asked to review Willingham’s data, even though CNN is reporting that she shared the data with them twice.

I worked in a NCAA Division I University for a few years (staff not faculty), and I had some contact with “scholar/athletes”. It was always hard to tell exactly what they did know, because each of them was surrounded by a coterie of enablers and helpers who greased the skids as long as they were performing, and their academic work was mainly special athletes-only classes with who knows what standards. But it was clear that some of those young men couldn’t read well at all. Unless they are fools, the UNC administrators who are going after Willingham know that, too. I’m sure if they re-work the data carefully they might find that it’s only 5% who read at a third-grade level, or perhaps the 8-10% read at a fifth-grade level. So what, it’s still a fucking disgrace.

106 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    CNN is doing some investigation

    Tweets, or it never happened.

  2. 2
    debbie says:

    This is nothing new. I typed exams for Intro General Biology classes back in the 1970s at BU. They separated classes by majors/Schools, and the test for Phys Ed majors was nothing like the test for Pre-Med. Of course, the test for Education majors was not a whole lot harder than the test for the athletes. That probably explains the state of public education today.

  3. 3
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    And the way to fix this problem is to turn our inner city schools into profit generating enterprises.

    Anybody else ever notice how none of our suburban school districts ever clamor for the wonders of charter school education for their children?

  4. 4
    Comrade Jake says:

    This has not been my experience at all, but I appreciate that I’m probably at an institution that’s something of an outlier. All the student-athletes I’ve had in class (including, yes, some football and basketball players) have been pretty good students, even in the context of top ten school.

  5. 5
    MattF says:

    Margaret Soltan, aka, ‘University Diaries’ has been following all this:


    as well as various other scandals in academia.

  6. 6
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    CNN is reporting that she shared the data with them twice.

    Fascinating how the Triangle-area media isn’t reporting that tidbit.


    They separated classes by majors/Schools, and the test for Phys Ed majors was nothing like the test for Pre-Med. Of course, the test for Education majors was not a whole lot harder than the test for the athletes.

    Naive girl that I was, when I transferred to NCSU from TennTech, I steeled myself to putting in long, long hours to get through the physics requirement. And was stunned when I breezed through it.

    Y’see, at TTU, the engineering students took physics with the physics majors, and the electromagnetism quarter washed out an awful lot of us. As far as most of us could tell, the professors’ explanations always had a huge “and then a miracle occurs” in the middle of the process.

    At NCSU, the engineering students took physics with the “soft sciences” majors. My lab partner there was a biology major.

    It was also possible to graduate without an intro to EE or a thermodynamics class, things that were required at TTU. My respect for the degrees from NCSU has never recovered.

  7. 7
    Betty Cracker says:

    I love my college sports (well, football), but it’s rotten to the core and the current model should probably be burnt to the ground and rebuilt. I’d be cool with abolishing athletic scholarships altogether and making team sports a voluntary activity among students who got in based on the same academic standards to which all other students are subject.

    Also, it’s absurd that big time coaches get paid millions of dollars in salary each year. Maybe things would change if all coaches were paid the same salary (volleyball, football, lacrosse, doesn’t matter), which did not exceed the pay of the lowest-paid tenured professor.

    Would it utterly degrade the quality of play and eliminate the NFL/NBA farm system? Yeah, but tough shit.

  8. 8
    Chyron HR says:

    Leave our semiliterate gridiron champions alone. Why must you be so judgmental? It’s not like they raped anyone or anything. :c

    P.S. There’s nothing wrong with sports idols committing rape, either. Why must you be so judgmental? :C

  9. 9
    El Cid says:

    This nosy lady had no right interfering with the destinies of our chosen warriors, who battle each and every day against our most deadly rivals from other schools who wish to place their sphere-items into goal-achieving spaces to accumulate more such goal achievements than our warriors.

  10. 10
    Cermet says:

    Yet these students aren’t paid or allowed to profit because they are “getting’ educated. Just so typical of for profit sport programs; brings the idea of slavery out into the open. What, exactly, are 90% or more of these kids gonna do after they fail becoming a sports figure and leave unable to read/write even at the elementary level? Sick.

    Requiring thermo for all engineers? Wow, TTU was/is a badass school (that course can be ugly depending on the approach.) That school is up there in producing top engineers (and looong periods of pain for those poor kids!)

    Never heard of any engineering program that didn’t use the first three semester course of the standard physics – the one used for physics majors – as their core course. Times are a-changing and not for the better.

  11. 11
    PeakVT says:

    The goals of revenue sports and the education mission of a university are orthogonal. Inter-mural college sports should be abolished.

  12. 12
    Dave Ruddell says:

    I got my PhD at Carolina, so I had a chance to teach Chem lab to freshmen; I had some athletes, but never from basketball or football (a few soccer players). While I found their science and math skills to be pretty poor, all of my students were at least literate. On the heels of the heels of the AFAM scandal, this just terrible for UNC. At least Willingham had the support of the former chancellor (Holden Thorpe, who I knew a little bit, and was a good guy).

  13. 13
    Manyakitty says:

    Based on my experiences, the assessment is both true and not true. I taught Freshman Comp at three different colleges. At one, a small, Catholic, private school in PA, my top student was a star on the football team. I know he did his own work because I made them write every single day and the quality of his essays matched his in-class performance.

    At the larger, public university in NEOhio, the athletes used travel, practice, and games as excuses to get out of assignments. Some were decent students, but others needed to repeat fourth grade.

    Then there was the community college – no sports, but they gladly admitted students who were clearly non-functional illiterates, then made them repeat developmental classes until they found someone who was willing to pass them through. I remember some harsh criticism from my dept. chair when I told one student to withdraw and complete the county’s free adult literacy program before returning to college.

  14. 14
    AMinNC says:

    I know Mary Willingham, and she has always been concerned with kids who are getting the short end of the education stick – starting with kids in our local school district. She is also (obviously) not one to keep quiet.

    I went to UNC and am ashamed at how athletics have taken over our culture. Basketball was always important, but the era of football dominating the ACC and every other conference in the race for TV revenue, has been a cancer on the academy.

    When I was in grad school, I taught a lot of student athletes. Most of them were great students because they had been driven enough in high school to do well on and off the field, and in college they were essentially working a full-time athletic job while going to school. Most of them knew they weren’t going to have a post-college athletic career, so they excelled at school.

    One of my brightest students was a center, in fact. Huge guy who loved English Renaissance poetry. Go figure. But too many of the major revenue sport athletes were clearly not admitted to the universities because of academic talent.

    Major college sports are corruption made manifest.

  15. 15
    Craig says:

    But let’s remember that the real scandal here, at least according to folks like Matt Yglesias, is that we don’t pay these “student athletes” while they’re getting carried through a school they’re in no way qualified to attend…

  16. 16
    Eric U. says:

    These sports programs are very corrupting. The main scandal of the Penn State scandal is how beholden to the football program a large university president has to be to keep his job. And that scandal is true of any school that has a football program. And the president of my university lost his job because he didn’t manage to keep a successful basketball coach.

    @PeakVT: what revenue sports? The football program at most schools is living off of general university funds to some degree. And even places where the football program makes money probably don’t count expenses like extra police for game weekends and the like. Basketball is probably better at generating revenue relative to the expenses, who knows?

  17. 17
    SteveM says:

    I love my college sports (well, football), but it’s rotten to the core and the current model should probably be burnt to the ground and rebuilt. I’d be cool with abolishing athletic scholarships altogether and making team sports a voluntary activity among students who got in based on the same academic standards to which all other students are subject.

    It can never happen, but the whole thing should be destroyed and replaced with minor leagues in football and basketball, in which players are openly paid. Playing football and basketball at that level should be a job — period.

  18. 18
    Comrade Nimrod Humperdink says:

    I had quite a few athletes in the composition courses I taught at a major state school as an adjunct before I moved Down Under, and most of them were at least competent students. The ones in the non-revenue sports (golf, track, swimming, etc) were frequently among the best students I had, and very talented and driven people. I had a few that were the stereotype, but none of them ever got a grade they didn’t earn and I never got any kind of hint from anybody about doing it any other way. This UNC thing is crazy. The part about the phantom African American Studies department passing out As for no-show classes is what blows my mind, since I read a report that said it had been “functioning” that way since the ’90s. How does something like that get past accreditation?

  19. 19
    Tim F. says:

    Hah. Colorado College has a Division I hockey team and not much else. Not being big enough for athlete-only courses it just has a bunch of courses that everyone is supposed to ‘know’ you can pass in a coma.

    Well no one told me. As part of my quest to take at least one thing from the best regarded professors I ended up in a military history course by a great (or at least pretty good, by our standards) historian named Dennis Showalter along with half of the hockey team.

    They could read and write, but holy god was it an embarrassment. I turned in an essay that I still think is some of my better work, about Napoleon and the Jewish community in Europe. Above and below it you had five pages of kindergarden-ruled ledger paper with double spacing and huge letters that looked like they wrote it with their non-dominant hand. There might have been three hundred words in the whole thing.

    Again these guys were Michel Foucault by Division I standards, but even so it left an impression.

  20. 20
    Bendal says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    Don’t forget that NCSU also eliminated the requirement for surveying to graduate with a Civil Engineering degree years ago. I think it’s still an elective, but if you want a ‘hard science’ engineering degree there now you’ve got to get creative with your class schedule organization to do it. They appear to be shifting their CE degree program to water management and environmental protection; needed emphasis certainly, but roads and bridges will still need to be built decades from now and someone’s got to design & build (and survey!) them.

  21. 21
    NotMax says:

    Another example of why BJ needs a ‘water is wet’ tag.

  22. 22
    Comrade Nimrod Humperdink says:

    @debbie: My experiences with the “Education” department at my school were similar, and this was in the late ’90s. Teaching is hard, but so much of the “prep” for it is beyond a joke.

  23. 23
    Forked Tongue says:

    A few of us sports-haters have been holding out hope for a long time that the utter lunacy of this shit would gradually become clear to more than a statistically irrelevant splinter of the citizenry. Maybe, as with the Invisible Superheroes Who Live In Outer Space routine, the light is finally beginning to make its way through the clouds.

  24. 24
    Linda Featheringill says:

    Some people are very religious. They will worship anything. And they do worship sports and the delivering athletes in a way that makes them guilty of idolatry.

    These folks would gladly capture the whistleblower and burn her at the stake. Maybe she should take security measures.

  25. 25
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Words are stupid.

  26. 26
    Comrade Nimrod Humperdink says:

    @Forked Tongue: Isolated incident perpetrated by a few bad apples dude. College football is one of my favorite things in the world, but between this kind of thing and the concussions issue it’s hard to love. It’d be great to walk away from, but it’s just too much damned fun to watch. I do actually wonder how much longer the NCAA will exist in its current form, and once those changes start to happen, what other changes will follow.

  27. 27
    brantl says:

    This is what happens when sports are more important than school, period. And, it had to have happened all through their school careers, or they couldn’t have gotten to college at this level.

  28. 28
    raven says:

    @NotMax: No shit.

  29. 29
    Elizabelle says:


    Good on you. Are you still teaching?

  30. 30
    Wag says:


    The suburbs have their charter schools The difference is that suburban charters tens toward the community run non-profit variety with heavy parental involvement.

    One of the great sleight of hand tricks performed by the for profit “Education Reform” movement over the past several years has been to equate their version of snake oil with the genuine hard work of concerned parents pulling together to better their children’s educational chances.

  31. 31
    raven says:

    @Manyakitty: In Georgia the adult literacy programs are part of the tech school (their version of community colleges) system even though the tech schools really don’t want them.

  32. 32
    Elizabelle says:


    Great comment. I appreciate Mary Willingham’s courage in pursuing this. And love hearing of athletes who are scholars too.

    Now: major college sports are corrupting schools (check) and it’s not likely to be much reported because TV carries and makes bundles off major college sports. Donors and fans puff up by how big the stadium, what name does it carry, etc.

    Maybe we should either have an “athletes” track, where athletes who underperform academically are guaranteed readmission after their pro career/graduation so they can get a remedial education and achieve a diploma fair and square, if they so desire. Otherwise, they get a diploma with a football or basketball logo.

    Face it, how many heard of George Mason University or Virginia Commonwealth U before their basketball teams started winning? Sad.

  33. 33
    sparrow says:

    We need to move to a European system, where sports at all levels are the domain of private clubs that have no association whatsoever with schools. My (european) husband was a track star in high school, but that was in addition to being a good student in class. He didn’t get any passes whatsoever for “oh I have a meet this weekend”. And he knew he wasn’t going to the olympics, so he became a physicist.

  34. 34
    Mark S. says:

    @Eric U.:

    what revenue sports?

    Has there ever been a definitive study on this? It amazes me that you can sign million dollar TV contracts and sell out an 80,000 seat stadium several times and not make any money, but I’ve heard the argument several times. It makes me wonder what the bother is.

    I think we should copy those soshalist Europeans on how they do their leagues. At least those guys in the second and third tier leagues are getting paid instead of doing it for free for a college.

  35. 35
    raven says:

    @Elizabelle: So every college and university needs to be “heard of” nationally to accomplish their mission?

  36. 36
    jonas says:

    I was a graduate TA some years back at a big school with a nationally-ranked sports program and didn’t teach a lot of the major varsity athletes, but I remember being struck by 1. how generally smart and well-prepared the football players were and 2. how unbelievably unprepared the basketball players were — both white and minority. They always required major remediation. But football players have this military-like focus and discipline and even the ones you assumed (not always correctly) came from an “inner city” background may not have been A students, but worked hard and were perfectly literate. The soccer guys were somewhere in the middle.

  37. 37
    Poopyman says:

    @brantl: Exactly. Kids reading and writing at a 4th grade level means that schools have passed them through for at least 8 years before they’ve even reached college.

    Of course this is in no way limited to athletes, and I’d rather not go down the schools-as-a-grift thread yet again. At least this thread should be sports-centric.

  38. 38
    Mark S. says:


    Great minds . . .

  39. 39
    john b says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism: What sort of engineering major were you? I had to take EE and thermo. And yeah, my physics classes weren’t all that tough, but I also took it in my first semester of freshman year. You could have taken a more difficult physics if you had preferred.

  40. 40
    Wag says:

    @Tim F.:

    Fellow Tiger!

    And every word you say is true. We didn’t see any hockey player in Olin Hall

    Class of ’84

  41. 41
    raven says:

    @jonas: The haters don’t want to hear that shit. Sports bad. End of story.

  42. 42
    MomSense says:

    So she is receiving death threats about this? Nice culture of life they have there in NC.

    The schools are making a ton of money off of these football and basketball players and the benefit to the players is supposedly the education. I think these players should unionize and at least get paid for their trouble. I’m also wondering about the long term health consequences to these players.

  43. 43
    ericblair says:


    Requiring thermo for all engineers? Wow, TTU was/is a badass school (that course can be ugly depending on the approach.)

    Ours did, too: I was an electramacal engineer, and this was our least favorite course. It wasn’t that the material was enormously difficult, but for an electrical engineer it just Wasn’t The Way We Thought About Things. Both us and the mecchies had to take Motors, which we both hated for the “opposite” reasons (mecchies hated the electrical bits, and electricals hated the mechanics bits).

  44. 44
    LeeM says:

    Does not surprise me a bit. I was an Engineering major who transferred from a small but rigorous commuter school in Savannah to Georgia. I took all my required humanities electives at Georgia during the summer half semesters, and many of the classed were stuffed with athletes who needed to catch up (basketball mostly). The quality of learning far better in the summer classes not filled with athletes, but the top grades were harder to achieve. I breezed through a speech class and was appalled at the writing and speaking abilities of some of those players- it was embarrassing. Others were really interesting, such as a US History course taught by a leading women’s studies professor.

  45. 45
    some guy says:

    @Comrade Jake:

    ditto over here. one of the 3 football players I taught who went on to the NFL (yes, he was a Steeler) was a C student who worked hard in and out of class, kicked ass on his papers, and earned a B+ for the semester.

  46. 46
    Hawes says:

    I’ve seen a few student/athletes pass through the schools I’ve worked at. There was a basketball post-graduate who could barely write. He was placed in my wife’s AP Gov course. But there was another player – still in the NBA – who was there 4 years who got a solid education.

    It’s weird working in “elite” boarding schools and every year seeing PGs who have barely the basic academic fundamentals. Most work hard to overcome their deficits, but they are 19 by the time we get them.

    The problem is only 50% collegiate. The rest lies with the high schools that let these kids advance.

  47. 47
    Chyron HR says:


    Face it, how many heard of George Mason University

    Hey, what did GMU ever do to you? Besides Tyler Cowen.

  48. 48
    raven says:

    @LeeM: We have our own engineering program now!

  49. 49
    Comrade Nimrod Humperdink says:

    @jonas: That actually sounds more to me like a reflection of the recruiting. The personality and priorities (and place in the prestige pecking order) of the coaching staff can show up in the attributes of the kids they recruit. Good things are happening at WSU because Leach is there, he consistently graduated his players at Texas Tech and recruited kids that took school seriously. Maybe your football coach could either choose kids that were both good athletes and students, or went out of his way to find the focused personalities you describe, while the basketball coach had to just chase the best athletes he could regardless of academics. Or maybe the football program cared about academics more than the basketball program did.

  50. 50
    Manyakitty says:

    @Elizabelle: Nope, couldn’t stomach the departmental politics in PhD school (PA), relentlessly discouraged by the consumer focus at community college. Then there’s the whole problem of getting trapped in adjunct hell…. Anyway, I found a full-time job as a writer. I love where I work and find it surprisingly interesting. Even so, I still miss teaching. It does get in the blood.

    @raven: This school is in a county where the program is administered through the library system. Either way, these people need help and support, not shame and failure.

  51. 51
    cmorenc says:


    It can never happen, but the whole thing should be destroyed and replaced with minor leagues in football and basketball, in which players are openly paid. Playing football and basketball at that level should be a job — period.

    The biggest scandal is how much the big-time $$$ NCAA D-1 schools make off their revenue sports, while the NCAA rules conveniently prohibit them from paying the athletes anything more than room, board, and books. I understand completely the justification why these rules were originally put into place, but the world in which they made sense has been radically transformed by the huge sports-industrial complex with oceans of television money.

  52. 52
    gvg says:

    It’s not the same level of corruption at all schools. At a large public university with multiple National Championships in both Football and Basketball, I haven’t encountered evidence of that level of corruption. I’d say the athletes maybe averaging a bit more than the general population on lower academic capabilities. There have been some that were way above average-one is currently a surgeon that was a star football player when I was a student. We are such a large school 45,000 that the general population of students turns out to have some that even though they met high standards to get in, aren’t that good so when I encounter a few athletes that have problems…it’s not fair to get excited. I handle Academic Progress petitions for financial aid for the general student body-hundreds a term. the athletes haven’t stood out. I’ve only seen a few have problems, very few, so I just don’t think we have a big issue here.
    I’ve only worked here, but my impression of other schools around the country is that there is a huge variation on how well they each do things in all other areas so I suspect how they deal with athletes is just as variable.
    This school had a bad reputation in the 70’s and 80’s but tried to turn it around.
    Now that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect, just that it’s not as pathatic here as the school the writer studied. And there are probably schools even worse. The thing is she can’t know how it is at every single school and people are going to resent the assumption that their program is just as bad.
    UF has about 120 different BA degrees. It’s a huge school meant to serve a wide variety of needs from our huge state. What that means is that someone who washes out of engineering may do excellant work in some other field either because engineering was the wrong fit or….because some other field was easier. If they really bomb they may get kicked out but if they just do so so and heed the warning signs, they can get into a better for them major. The non athlete students get that chance, so the athletes do to. It won’t help someone who can’t read or is extremely poor at it but I don’t think UF wastes time on those.
    The internet has also made a big difference to athletes ability to keep up with classes even with a travel schedule that is demanding. I’ve only heard ancedotes on that but I think it’s logical and UF put alot of work into making that possible for all students.
    I have heard that our athletic department tries to demand student athletes go to class and keeps after them to go even if they want to goof off. We don’t do that for the general population so technically that might be a special benefit….I can tell you I have had to put regular students in repay every semester when we find out they never went to class. Athletes rarely come up on that report.

  53. 53
    Walker says:

    Technically this could be seen as “research on human subjects”, so she could get clobbered if this was not cleared with IRB. IRB is a universities primary way of controlling research (OSP can control grants, but not research).

  54. 54

    Not all student athletes are dumb. One of my best students when I was teaching an intro math class as a graduate student was a hockey player from Canada.

  55. 55
    Wag says:


    I don’t believe that IRBs get involved with observational sociology studies.

  56. 56
    slippytoad says:

    @Mark S.:

    What revenue? Such as the tax-free living the NFL enjoys since 1966?

    Also, much of your cable TV bill goes towards keeping ESPN on. Another reason I refuse to subscribe to cable TV. I have no interest in sports, and I’m increasingly contemptuous about the industry due to the fact that I perceive our social order has become completely corrupted to give gigantic paychecks to a handful of scummy team owners, and suck all of the oxygen out of every connected system. I’d be happy to see the NFL collapse, their tax-exempt status permanently dead, and watch every brain-dead sports announcer on the planet shrivel up and crawl under a sewer grate. Now, if this whole industry is really capable of supporting itself, they are welcome to do so, but I’m starting to realize that every single time I get out my wallet the fucking NFL or somebody is trying to rifle through it, and I’m kind of sick of that horseshit.

  57. 57
    Lori says:

    This is a surprise to anyone???!

    In about 1980 I and two others mistakenly ended up in a football players class. It was Orienteering (ROTC), some kind of filler for them to get an easy A, I guess. Only they couldn’t even manage that. All you had to do is show up, try stuff and act like you cared to get an A. I mean that quite literally, that’s what the Sgt said the first day. Not a single one of them could do it. Plus they were all cowards, every one of them. One of the things we did was rappelling, none of them would even try it. If I can do it while so terrified that I was all but crying then anyone can. The arrogance that is instilled in college football and basketball players is detrimental to their education and future. There is no justification for the way they are deceived about what’s ahead for them.

    I hate the kind of college athletics that makes a joke of education. College football and basketball players are not students, they are semi-professional or minor league sports players. Competitive intermural sports needs to be severed from education, they are not compatible.

  58. 58
    Walker says:


    Hmmm, the CNN article says she had “University approval” to do the research. Sounds like IRB approval, so she would be in the clear.

  59. 59
    Walker says:


    If she is giving them specific tests to determine reading level (as opposed to observing normal parts of their life) they sure do.

  60. 60
    Punchy says:

    We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction

    Sounds like they’re calling her out as a straight-up liar. Which is pretty funny to anyone that actually went to college, because I’d wager that nearly 100% of us knew athletes who either couldn’t read or do basic math, and/or had “tutors” who actually did all their work for them.

    I lived a year with both a tennis and baseball player….clearly, not the big revenue generating sports. And even THEY had “tutors” write their papers, compute the algebra, and steer them to classes that a 5th grader would find too easy.

  61. 61
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @ericblair: Even intro thermodynamics, before you get into the quantum microphysics of it (maybe _especially_ then–I was always more comfortable dealing with quantum stat. mech. than with the 19th century stuff), is just a tricky, tricky subject. There are all these superficially similar but different quantities that vary over a multidimensional space of parameters, and the behavior is markedly different depending on what you hold constant and what you allow to vary. It’s very easy to get confused.

  62. 62
    tybee says:

    i recall the university of georgia having similar issues some years ago, giving rise to the bumper stickers that said “Let the Big Dawg Read”.
    and, if i recall correctly, the instructor that brought the issue forth was threatened and may have lost her job eventually.

  63. 63
    MattF says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Yeah, classical thermo is just a very different mind-set from anything else in physics. I had a professor who taught thermo doing the ‘crotchety old guy who seems to be full of shit but actually isn’t’ routine– which works very well for that subject.

    ETA: I guess I should mention that the professor was J.B.Fenn, who years later won a Nobel Prize.

  64. 64
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Lori: Re: rappelling — one quick way for an athlete/scholar to get cut from the squad and lose all the bennies that go with being in that program is to get injured so I can understand completely why they’d not be keen on doing that sort of thing. Even a minor injury could knock them out of contention for weeks and someone else would get “their” spot in the team with the possibility they’d never get it back.

  65. 65
    West of the Cascades says:

    @Walker: Also, I don’t read the article to say she was directly in contact with the athletes to evaluate their reading ability — she was interpreting results of screenings that were conducted by someone else at the university after the students were admitted.

    It seems like one answer, if UNC were willing to be honest about this, would be to do the same screenings and put the students who read at a lower-than-say-ninth grade level in an one-year intensive reading and writing course for their Freshman year (and it wouldn’t necessarily need to be a course limited to athletes). Colleges need to be honest that our elementary and high school education systems are turning out some folks who might have the capacity to do college-level work if they had learned basic reading and writing skills, and be willing to take a year of college to correct that.

  66. 66
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Betty Cracker: Welcome to D-III sports.

  67. 67
    brettvk says:

    @slippytoad: This is a fine rant. I have an active aversion to football on both the pro and college levels; it sickens me that my tax dollars help to support either system in any way.

  68. 68
    brettvk says:

    @Lori: Do you think some of the reluctance to try rappelling was a fear of getting injured and cut from the team? If you’re risking both your current and future income at every practice and every game I’d bet you’d walk real carefully down the street.

  69. 69
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Requiring thermo for all engineers?

    I’m sorry, but how the f**k can you even BE an engineer without understanding thermo? Even for a EE, thermo connects with information theory.

  70. 70
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    The Yale Alumni Mag had an article on this in 2001 about the “corrosive effect” of an overemphasis on athletics. The students in revenue sports (which at Yale is pretty much only football, and not to a great extent) were not treated much differently from everyone else (except the football players had their own secret dining hall were they got steak every night — perhaps a legend). Yale produced the only Major League Baseball player who has ever had a master’s degree in French. There was also on guy in my class who went on to an NFL career, but he has an ungoogleable name.


    If there is a corrosive effect at Yale, and the effect must be stronger at a lot of other places.

  71. 71
    Cacti says:

    UNC has always been pretty self-righteous about doing things “The Carolina Way” in sports, and Dean Smith was a public saint in the state.

    The other ACC schools have been waiting for a long time to see them knocked off their high horse.

  72. 72
    Gene108 says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    When did you attend NCSU?

    As an NCSU alum, there were no separate physics, calculus, chemistry, etc courses for physics, math and chemistry majors and the rest the rest of the science and engineering majors.

    I graduated in 1996.

    Also you are the first person I have heard of who thought engineering at NCSU was not rigorous enough, so I am curious if things have changed.

  73. 73
    Gene108 says:


    Thermo was a requirement for all engineers and washed a lot out, when I attended.

  74. 74

    @Betty Cracker: Some coaches make more than University Presidents and Deans forget some lowly faculty drone without tenure.

  75. 75
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: @schrodinger’s cat: A lot of coaches are the highest paid public employees. I think at least 15 states. I’ll look for the data.

  76. 76
    JoyfulA says:

    @Baud: That’s the same reporter who got a Pulitzer at the Harrisburg Patriot-News for her Penn State-Sandusky investigation. Thereafter, she quickly got an offer from CNN.

  77. 77


    They separated classes by majors/Schools, and the test for Phys Ed majors was nothing like the test for Pre-Med.

    I dunno, that makes perfect sense to me.  I was a film major — why should I flunk out of school over a biology class that I was taking as a General Education requirement but was not a requirement of my major? Does every arts major need the same deep understanding of biology as someone who’s going into medicine?

  78. 78
    Raven says:

    @Lori: Respectfully, you are full of shit.

  79. 79
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Here’s the infographic.


    It turns out that in about half the states the highest paid public official is a coach.

  80. 80
    burnspbesq says:

    If the young man in question played for the Memphis Grizzlies Under-19s instead of a supposedly elite public university, his lack of basic life skills would still be a problem.

    It’s hard to find any logical reason why the NFL and NBA should get a multi-hundred-million-dollar free ride on player development, but that doesn’t change the fact that K-12 failed this young man, and countless others like him.

  81. 81
    Seanly says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    Requiring all engineering majors to have EE & thermodynamics classes is a holdover from 1940’s & 50’s and the idea that all engineers had to have some familiarity with other disciplines.* I did my undergrad in Civil Engineering at Lehigh University ~ by no means a puff school. They specifically talked about why our major didn’t require an EE or thermo class – not germane to CE. They wanted to spend our 4 years getting us to be the best CE’s we could be rather than folks who could answer any question in the EIT and muddle through their first job. When I was a grad student at Clemson which did require undergrads to take EE & thermo classes, it did reduce the amount of CE core they could get.

    * – As our body of knowledge grows, it becomes antiquated to push for a broad knowledge by all engineers. Most civil engineering is now a mix of traditional civil engineering & environmental engineering with people specializing in their junior & senior years. Freshmen year for core, sophomore for major core without needless cross-discipline.

  82. 82

    @RobNYNY1957: Don’t the coaches make millions? While most faculty make < 100,000.

  83. 83
    Cacti says:


    A lot of coaches are the highest paid public employees. I think at least 15 states. I’ll look for the data.


    Public universities with high profile football and/or basketball programs usually pay their head coaches a lot more than the University Chancellor. It’s actually 38 states where a coach is the highest paid public employee.

  84. 84
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    Fascinating how the Triangle-area media isn’t reporting that tidbit.

    The News & Observer’s run a fair few pieces. Apparently, Willingham went public after Bill Friday’s death, because he was no friend of sports running the joint.

  85. 85
    MCA1 says:

    @Mark S.: “It makes me wonder what the bother is.” Even money-losing football programs are seen as loss leading marketing for the university as a whole. There’s been plenty of observable evidence re: application booms at schools whose basketball or football teams have recently had great success.

  86. 86
    MCA1 says:

    @Cacti: Yes. In particular, the schadenfreude coming out of Raleigh and Durham could power both campuses for the forseeable future.

  87. 87
    JustRuss says:

    So 10+ years after No Child Left Behind, we’re still graduating students who can barely read. Honestly, why is this so fucking hard?

  88. 88
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Unless they are fools, the UNC administrators who are going after Willingham know that, too.

    They’re not fools, but they DO know that the football and basketball programs are key to keeping the institution funded. This is the reality of the thing…they’re a vital PR tool for the admins keeping their phony-baloney jobs.

  89. 89
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Tenured professors may make that much, but increasingly there are adjunct professors who make $20,000-$25,000 per year with no job security and no benefits. Tenure track and non-tenure track full time professors are in between


  90. 90
    Steve Finlay says:

    Here in Canada, we SEEM to have less of a problem with sports programs causing corruption of education. But I would not swear to it. Unfortunately, the crap standards in higher education aren’t solely a result of sports mania. I have been doing some freelance work editing papers for a former student (he was my student in a Kaplan LSAT prep course), and it has been an unpleasant eye opener.

    This guy was never a sports hero of any kind, so he never was routed to any of the soft courses that some universities give to their athletes. He has a ridiculous number of letters after his name now: B. Sc., M. Sc., JD, and LL.M. His main interest is fisheries law and economics, and a lot of the papers that he has paid me to edit are in that area.

    And — he can’t write, and he can’t think. Whichever university gave him a bachelor’s degree should have 1/10 of its faculty put to the sword like a disgraced Roman legion, and the ones that gave him master’s degrees (one in Canada, one in the US, and one in Hong Kong) should be sacked by Huns and Visigoths. In one paper, he made a claim about how the recreational fishery for Pacific halibut operated, with a footnote to back it up. The footnote was an article about Atlantic cod. In another article, he said that a certain community licencing program was a success, because one out of 57 eligible communities had chosen to participate in it. And on, and on, and on. (I point out the errors and tell him to fix them; he’s the author, not me. But he is showing no signs of learning how to recognize them himself.)

    But I can’t just point the finger at him or those universities; the entire academic field of fisheries is not much better. In one article, written by two professors who are considered world authorities, we find this sentence: “Yet, co-management that goes wrong from the very beginning will likely lead to undesirable outcomes.” No shit, Sherlock!! Memo to the editors of that academic journal: It is spelled T-A-U-T-O-L-O-G-Y, and if you don’t know enough to recognize one and throw it away, your journal is not fisheries research; it is fish wrap. It wouldn’t work as toilet paper.

  91. 91

    @RobNYNY1957: I know, I was talking of the average tenured professor.

  92. 92
    Richard Gadsden says:

    @Mark S.:

    Has there ever been a definitive study on this? It amazes me that you can sign million dollar TV contracts and sell out an 80,000 seat stadium several times and not make any money, but I’ve heard the argument several times. It makes me wonder what the bother is.

    The money goes into inflated coaching numbers and salaries, over-the-top practice facilities, palatial dorms for athletes, etc – most of which exists for recruitment purposes, in an environment where you can’t compete by offering a bigger salary.

    Top Division I teams usually have better facilities than NFL or NBA teams, because the NFL and NBA spend money on the players.

    If they make a profit, that just goes into the general fund of the university, and who would want that – jocks making money for the nerds?!?

  93. 93
    stinger says:

    @Wag: This.

  94. 94
    Lex says:

    As a newly-minted UNC master’s alum, I am disgusted but not surprised by this report. I also am beyond disappointed by the lack of meaningful response by UNC System president Tom Ross, whose career includes stints as a congressional aide, the state’s youngest-ever Superior Court judge, a foundation head and an outstanding president of my undergraduate alma mater, Davidson. Tom needs to come down on this like the wrath of God, particularly when he knows, or ought to, that our Teatard-controlled legislature despises the UNC system and will take any excuse, or none at all, to stick it to higher education.

  95. 95
    Heliopause says:

    The best solution would, admittedly, be a very difficult one; make the cartel of billionaires who are forcing these young athletes into colleges where they don’t belong pay for their professional development.

  96. 96
    drkrick says:


    … our Teatard-controlled legislature despises the UNC system and will take any excuse, or none at all, to stick it to higher education.

    Hardly surprising. Most of them probably grew up admiring Jesse Helms, who in his pre-Senate journalism career habitually referred to UNC as the “University of N*****s and Communists” in print.

    Two pieces of anecdata:

    Former NFL player Dexter Manley not only stayed eligible at but graduated from Oklahoma State in the early ’80’s while entirely illiterate.

    George Washington University saw their applications double in a single year after making the NCAA basketball tournament in 1992, which made them a significantly more “selective” and higher ranked school overnight with absolutely no need to improve their academic performance.

  97. 97
    Gene108 says:


    A lot of the NC General Assembly are UNC grads, same with the UNC System BOG.

    They have a bigger interest in protecting UNC sports than using this as an excuse to cut education funding.

  98. 98
    Mnemosyne says:

    So I have an alternate and maybe slightly crazy idea — how many of these athletes have undetected learning disabilities like dyslexia? As far as I know, kids only get screened for those things when they get into academic trouble (and even then the parents have to pay out of pocket for it) so I could see a severely dyslexic athlete managing to get all the way through school without ever being diagnosed because he has so many “helpers” to do the reading (or read to him), do the writing, etc.

  99. 99
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    Here is another example of a basketball team increasing applications with no change in academics:


    The impressive performance of our men’s basketball program draws people to our institution. We saw a large increase in applicants after our recent Sweet 16 appearance. Alumni reconnected with the university. Some of our biggest fans have become our biggest donors.

  100. 100
    Another Holocene Human says:

    It’s easy to exploit employees who can’t read.

  101. 101
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Comrade Nimrod Humperdink:

    The part about the phantom African American Studies department passing out As for no-show classes is what blows my mind, since I read a report that said it had been “functioning” that way since the ’90s. How does something like that get past accreditation?

    Racism. Straight up. No chaser.

  102. 102
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Bendal: I can see why state schools are tempted to water down the requirements for engineers, though–the freshman phys lecture hall at UMCP full of engineering and architecture students frankly frightened me. These are our future mechanical engineers building skyscrapers and bridges and they don’t know basic high school kinetics?! WTF BBQ!

    I guess not every place can be Rose Hulman or churn out I.M. Pei’s but, gah. Only a minority of engineers seem to grok scientific method or are talented in math and science… I’m friends with some of them… but it’s kind of scary.

    Also our national strategic supply of scientists engineers who sign onto global warming and evolution denialism petitions. So there’s that.

  103. 103
    RobNYNY1957 says:

    @Another Holocene Human: I have friends who went to grad arch at Harvard and Columbia.

    The one at Harvard had been an English lit major, but Harvard is as much an engineering school as an architecture school and he had to learn a lot of calc an CE. He ended up designing hospitals and laboratories.

    Columbia is all about esthetics, and a grad from there (not my friend) designed my law firm’s interior with no overhead lights (he thought they were bourgeois) and desks too narrow to hold any but the smallest monitors. After he finished, we immediately hired another firm to install the sort of lighting and monitors that people who read for 14 hours a kinda need.

  104. 104
    Origuy says:

    When I was at UIUC, the School of Engineering required two semesters of chemistry and three of physics even for computer science majors.They were the same courses as the people majoring took. There was a physics class for liberal arts students aka Physics for Poets.

    I knew a few guys on athletic scholarships. I don’t think any were functionally illiterate. I did help one study for a class we were in together: Mythology of Greece and Rome. It was one of those gut classes for an easy grade; big lecture hall, multiple-choice tests, the professor would dress up like the Oracle of Delphi and predict the winner of the football game. I got a A and the athlete got a C.

  105. 105
    the MEitcong says:

    I grew up in, and attended the flagship university of, a southern state with a prestigious basketball program. I still find myself following the basketball program, even though I’m increasingly turned off by the….excesses, I guess, that the program exhibits. In a sense, it’s ingrained in the culture and it’s difficult to escape if you grow up in it. I have no reservations about making the observation that a majority of the population, possibly a sizable one, would have no qualms whatsoever about shutting down the academic part of the university and simply having it function as a minor league pro team. Not sure how you change that culture or avoid the problems that stem from it.

  106. 106
    Craig says:

    @Comrade Nimrod Humperdink: I think we can agree that “non-revenue” sports are not where the problem is, yeah? Somebody’s going to honestly earn a college degree while competing on, say, the gymnastics team, then good for them. I don’t mind there being scholarships (for admittedly non-scholarly activities) or anything. But if you’re trying to say that you’ve never had a hint of basketball or football players having the academic skids greased for them in even the slightest way…? I mean, come on. We’ve all seen it by now.

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