Mary Willingham has been called a lot of things lately. Malicious. Dishonest. Negligent. Egocentric. And yes, racist. Then there are the accompanying death threats that squarely peg her as an enemy of the state (of North Carolina). Even the media-appointed title, “whistle blower,” carries a negative connotation—as if to suggest an unwanted disruption to cheery life in idyllic Chapel Hill.
Mary Willingham, be assured, has not been called a champion. She has not been called honest, or willing, or brave. Instead, effigies in the form of Internet memes paint the UNC academic advisor as an untrusting bigot set to bring down one of this nation’s premier research universities. Indeed, a number of unsavory online forum threads have very nearly burned Willingham at the virtual stake. Nearly.
You see, Willingham might as well have read the minds of millions of discerning Americans. Research—or prevailing common sense—has historically suggested that the academic standards by which athletes must meet are much lower than their less coordinated peers. This is not so much a poor reflection of sport-minded young adults as it is of a universal admissions system whose perpetuation of a knowingly tweaked admittance process pits brutes in the throes of academic scholarship of the highest level. Standards abandoned, academic integrity becomes nothing more than an elusive, impossibly met goal. Academic responsibility, a mere afterthought.
College athletics is undoubtedly big business. And sports like basketball and football are largely responsible for raking in the most revenue. So endowment be damned if the pillar of university culture be attacked.