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Jan 11, 2014 01:03 PM EST

UNC Academic Scandal: Literacy Study Author Mary Willingham Receiving Death Threats


The study of University of North Carolina (UNC) student-athlete's supposed low reading levels is jus the latest blow in an ongoing academic scandal at the school.

The nation's first public university, UNC's academic troubles began in 2010 with a NCAA probe into how its athletes were being helped in their classes, according to the Associated Press. Then the school's African and Afro-American Studies department was exposed for allegedly holding fraudulent classes for athletes to get A's in.

Now, the issue at hand is a study from Mary Willingham that revealed 60 percent of the school's athletes read at a fourth- to eighth-grad level. In an article published for CNN, she also found about 10 percent read at or below a third-grade level and she even met athletes who could not read or write multisyllabic or even basic words.

It really has just been like we've been under siege for the past three years," Lissa Lamkin Broome, a banking law professor and UNC's faculty athletic representative, told the AP. "Now to the extent that we've uncovered problems during this siege, that's a good thing - to find those problems and weed them out and to try to put processes in place to hopefully ensure... that some of this stuff doesn't happen again."

Willingham has not responded to the AP for comment, but has said in previous interviews she has been receiving death threats and hate mail following her study. Following their Wednesday's game against Miami, UNC basketball coach Roy Williams said he did not agree with Willingham's findings.

"I don't believe it's true," Williams told the AP. "It's totally unfair. I'm really proud of the kids we've brought in here. ... We haven't brought anybody in like that. We've had one senior since I've been here that did not graduate.

"Anybody can make any statement they want to make but that is not fair. The University of North Carolina doesn't do that. The University of North Carolina doesn't stand for that."

Students-athletes who play for UNC's division I basketball and football teams help bring in large sums of money, from memorabilia to ticket sales to TV deals. Willingham told CNN her research, from 2004 to 2012, was based on screenings paid for by the school and, since 2008, she said she asked administrators for permission several times. Emails from August, shared with CNN, also show she shared preliminary findings with Executive Vice Provost James W. Dean Jr. and another academic official.

Willingham said she has received four death threats and several "alarming" messages. However, the positive notes from teachers and literacy specialists she said she has received make it worth her work.

"It's really OK," Willingham said of the threats, "because I'm telling the truth."

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