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Mary Willingham archive

Identifier: SCU-RBSC-2017-8

Mary Willingham was a Learning Specialist and Academic Advisor who worked for the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). In her work with student athletes, she became aware that some of these students were receiving credit for classes in certain departments that did not require attendance or follow any academic structure. These classes were termed “paper classes” because the student was only required to submit one paper for credit. Many coaches and faculty were aware of the existence of these “paper classes” and would steer struggling student athletes into these courses to help them maintain academic eligibility. After testifying in an investigation that ultimately led to no action on the part of UNC, Willingham took her discoveries to the media, becoming the catalyst that launched a large-scale investigation into UNC-CH’s academic practices in regard to student athletes. Willingham experienced criticism and retaliation from university employees and ultimately left the university. Together with Jay Smith, Willingham wrote Cheated: the UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports, a book about the development of “paper classes” as well as her experiences with the university. The collection contains correspondence (primarily email), student grade reports and academic work from Willingham’s time at UNC. These documents were used in her research when writing Cheated. The collection also contains documents related to Willingham’s appointment at UNC and the retaliation she experienced in both her professional and educational pursuits at the university. Willingham’s documents contain much information that is sensitive in nature, dealing with students’ grades, classes, and their time in the university. In compliance with FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) some of the documents have been redacted by covering personally identifiable information and making a photocopy of the document. These redacted photocopies are available in the publicly accessible collection.


  • 2002-2015


Access Restrictions

Open to research

Publication Rights

All rights reside with the creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.


5 boxes


Gift, 2017

Repository Details

Part of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene Street
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-3847

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