Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mary Willingham: Making a Profit on Students' Private Information

On Sunday night this week, Mary Willingham shared identifiable academic information about former UNC basketball players from the 2005 national championship team. In my last blog entry, I explained how her tweet was both unethical and unlawful because it constitutes a violation of those former students' federally protected academic records. (Also, because she did not obtain the information ethically, we cannot even be certain it is true.) Such actions as Willingham's are obviously unethical on their own, but the true egregiousness of her stunt becomes apparent when we consider this: she did it to make a profit.

The important fact to recognize is the source of her tweet. She was tweeting not as a university employee or as an academic researcher. Rather, she was tweeting as the president of Paper Class Inc., a for-profit company. What that means is that she used her position as a university employee to access students' federally protected academic recordsunlawfullyfor the purpose of acquiring information she would use to publicize her company. Undoubtedly, her stunt was also a means of generating buzz for Jay Smith's and her forthcoming book, featured on Paper Class Inc.'s website and from which they surely hope to make a profit.

Of course, the irony is that her entire campaign of defamation against college athletics is that college athletics has been corrupted by the profit motive. Profit corrupts, indeed.