Defenders of the Indefensible: Jim Dean, University of North Carolina

Starting in 2011, Carolyn Willingham, a tutor at the University of North Carolina, complained to the press about fake classes for athletes. In place of an education, she said, athletes, some of whom could barely read, were encouraged to take fake classes, such as classes that never met.

Jim Dean, executive vice chancellor and provost, responded to her charges like this:

Dean asked Willingham to provide raw test data supporting her analysis. She declined, explaining that she’d obtained the confidential information by promising the university’s Institutional Review Board not to share it with anyone. She told Dean he could obtain the data directly from the athletic department, which gathered it in the first place. He declined to do as she suggested. “If she had the proof,” Dean says, “why wouldn’t she share the proof?”

Later Dean handled Willingham’s charges like this:

Dean said of Willingham: “She’s said our students can’t read, our athletes can’t read, and that’s a lie.”

In fact, Willingham had said

18 out of the 183 special admit athletes whose records she assessed read at roughly a third-grade level. An additional 110 of the athletes, she said, read at between fourth- and eighth-grade levels. She never said that most, let alone all, of the 800 athletes at UNC are illiterate, and she said nothing at all about the other 18,000 undergraduates.

When challenged, Dean conceded he’d misspoken.

Even the reporter, apparently, finds Dean’s defense repugnant. An important detail is that Willingham, who is wealthy, did not need the job. She was free to say whatever she wanted.

5 Replies to “Defenders of the Indefensible: Jim Dean, University of North Carolina”

  1. It’s always lovely to see someone with financial independence actually use it to do something for the rest of society, rather than just bleating about fashionable causes.

    Seth: I agree. How much charity money is wasted because the people giving the money know essentially nothing about the people they are supposedly helping?

  2. “An important detail is that Willingham, who is wealthy, did not need the job. She was free to say whatever she wanted.”

    This is a key point, yet it is rarely made. I’m not sure why. For the last several years, the myth that poor people have the same freedoms as the rich has been pushed hard, despite its obvious falsity.

    Kerry Kennedy could afford to hire attorneys to fight DUI charges, so she did and she won. Yet almost no members of the public can finance a legal defense. Their actual innocence is irrelevant.

    So prosecutors can file unwinnable cases left and right, knowing that only the 1% can afford to contest them. In Kennedy’s case, the prosecutor was handed a well-publicized loss.

  3. What’s further interesting about the above article is that in its original form, it was built around misquoting Kennedy, and is essentially prima facie evidence of libel.

    So, possibly after being contacted by Kennedy’s lawyers, they inserted the italicized sections, which correctly describe what Kennedy said, putting the lie to the rest of the article.

    That makes one wonder about every “shocking” article in the paper that ISN’T about someone wealthy enough to put muscle behind a libel complaint.

  4. Sidney, the blog post you linked to doesn’t claim Alice Walton was DUI when she drove over a bystander.

    As for the main post, it is common knowledge that a large fraction of athletes can’t read and do not belong in the classrooms of colleges and universities. It’s an open secret. It’s only inappopriate to notice if you suggest it’s a bad thing. It’s also an open secret that athletes are offered “made up classes” like underwater basketweaving, and it’s been one since the 60s at least.

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