Bioethics Blogs

Caught Between an IRB and the Provost

The UNC-Chapel Hill IRB has suspended research on student-athlete literacy after former learning specialist Mary Willingham of UNC-Chapel Hill complied with her provost’s demands for the data.

[Kane, Dan. “UNC Board Suspends Whistle-Blower’s Research on Literacy Level of Athletes.” News & Observer, January 16, 2014]

The News & Observer reports:

The research, publicized on CNN last week, helped kick up more concerns about the academic fraud scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill that involved dozens of lecture-style classes that never met. Willingham, a former learning specialist with the tutoring program for athletes, blew the whistle on those classes to The News & Observer in 2011. Athletes made up nearly half of the enrollments in those classes.

But university officials disputed the findings and sought to see the data. This week, Willingham turned over data to Provost Jim Dean, who said he wanted to see it to determine how she arrived at her findings. Willingham said at the time that she had not wanted to turn over the data for fear she would violate research regulations.

Willingham couldn’t be reached Thursday night after the research suspension was announced. Her co-investigator on the research project, Richard Southall, said he didn’t know when the university was saying that the violation occurred.

“My question is, ‘Did that violation occur when the data was forwarded on to the provost?’ ” said Southall, director of the College Sports Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

Dean said in a statement that was not the case.

“Ms. Willingham had said a number of times that she had identified data, and in fact had shared some pieces of it … in connection with earlier investigations,” Dean said.

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