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Hearing officer, UIC clear CSU official of plagiarism

The University of Illinois at Chicago has approved a dissertation by a Chicago State University official, who is suing UIC for publicly discussing her student work. An independent hearing officer retained by UIC rejected its handling of a plagiarism accusation, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

In a confidential report, the hearing officer strongly disagreed with UIC’s disposition of the case involving CSU Interim Provost Angela Henderson. The case had triggered a lawsuit by Henderson and led to a high-ranking UIC official leaving his administration position.

“I find that there were no instances of . . . taking exact narrative from another source, as if it were her own, without attribution, i.e., ‘plagiarism,’ ” the officer wrote after an investigation of the dissertation and a June 20 hearing where UIC officials and faculty and Henderson testified.

The officer wrote that there were some issues with Henderson’s bibliography and use of quotation marks, saying, “These problems do not . . . constitute ‘plagiarism.’ ” The officer recommended that Henderson fix the items. Henderson has done that. A UIC representative was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Henderson, who earned her Ph.D. in nursing from the school in August 2013, had insisted she had not plagiarized since the issue first arose. UIC officials first confirmed in media reports in January that the school was reviewing Henderson’s dissertation after a Chicago State University professor accused her of plagiarism. A month later, UIC ceased all discussion of the case, citing Henderson’s privacy.

Eric Gislason, UIC’s interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, has closed the case at the university level. “This completes the review process related to certain citation/reference issues contained in your original dissertation,” Gislason, second in command under Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, wrote in an Oct. 20 letter to Henderson.

Henderson’s lawsuit continues in court.

Gislason had replaced Lon Kaufman, UIC’s former vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, who stepped down from his position within weeks after Henderson filed her lawsuit on July 21.

Lon Kaufman, UIC’s former vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, stepped down from his position within weeks after Henderson filed her lawsuit on July 21. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Lon Kaufman, UIC’s former vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, stepped down from his position within weeks after Henderson filed her lawsuit on July 21. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

UIC is accused of violating the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by publicly discussing Henderson’s dissertation and the accusation made by an adversary, Chicago State History Professor Robert Bionaz. The act, known as FERPA, bars schools from releasing private information on student academics without permission.

The lawsuit further accused UIC of attempting to cover up a violation of FERPA by ignoring repeated communications on the issue.

Kaufman, in a letter to Henderson dated July 22 — a day after the lawsuit was filed — wrote: “The hearing officer has stated persuasively that, except for the citation problems, the dissertation meets generally accepted standards for scholarship. . . . Your degree will stand as it was issued.”

The 30-year professor and administrator, who moved up through the ranks to become UIC’s chief operating and chief academic officer in August 2011, returned to a position as a tenured professor in the Department of Biological Sciences soon after.

“I am glad this part of the process is over,” Henderson said this week.