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UIC to pay nearly $700,000 to former CSU provost wrongly accused of plagiarism

Angela Henderson

Former Chicago State University Provost Angela Henderson, who sued the University of Illinois at Chicago for publicly discussing her student work after an adversary accused her of plagiarism, has settled with the university for nearly $700,000. | Photo by Antonio Dickey

A former Chicago State University official who sued the University of Illinois at Chicago for publicly discussing her work at UIC when she was a student — after an adversary accused her of plagiarism — has settled with UIC for nearly $700,000.

Former CSU Provost Angela Henderson, who earned a Ph.D. in nursing at UIC in August 2013, filed the lawsuit in July 2014 after being cleared of the plagiarism allegations by an independent hearing officer retained by UIC.

But officials of UIC — where Henderson had also obtained a master’s in nursing and her MBA — had already been quoted in media discussing the allegations by now-retired CSU history professor Robert Bionaz, an adversary of Henderson’s.

Robert Bionaz, a now-retired history professor at Chicago State University, had accused former CSU Provost Angela Henderson of plagiarism, an allegation later ruled false by a hearing officer. UIC’s public discussion of his allegations led to demotion of a high-ranking UIC official. | Photo: LinkedIn

Henderson’s lawsuit accused the university of violating the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by publicly discussing her Ph.D. dissertation.

Botched handling of the case led to a high-ranking UIC official stepping down from his administration position weeks after Henderson’s lawsuit was filed.

According to the agreement, Henderson will receive a total settlement of $694,363. That includes $257,220 for potential lost future earnings;  $257,220 for emotional distress; and $150,560 for her attorney’s fees.

Also, she’ll get $25,000 for reputation management and executive outplacement services, and $4,363 for reimbursement of mediation fees.

Under the agreement, UIC denies wrongdoing, and the agreement prevents either side from actively publicizing the settlement.

UIC declined comment. “The Settlement Agreement with Ms. Henderson provides that the University may only state that it will not make any statement about Henderson or the Litigation,” spokeswoman Sherri McGinnis-Gonzalez emailed in response to a Sun-Times inquiry.

Henderson, who left the South Side college last summer under its incoming new President Zaldwaynaka Scott, emailed: “I am happy that I have cleared my name, but sad that I had to fight so long and hard to do it.”

She added: “As a matter of common decency, I should never have had to file a lawsuit to refute politically motivated and false charges. Unfortunately, when you are an African-American woman moving up the ladder in higher education, campus politics and negative attacks often come with the territory.”

FERPA bars schools from releasing private information on student academics without permission. The lawsuit, which named UIC’s Board of Trustees, former Vice Chancellor Lon Kaufman and other administration officials, alleged the university had tried to cover up the violation.

At the time Bionaz made the explosive accusations about Henderson’s Ph.D. dissertation, she was serving as CSU’s interim provost. It wasn’t until cleared by the hearing officer that she was permanently appointed.

“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 and administrative hearing about Bionaz’ allegations. Henderson had insisted she had not plagiarized.

UIC officials had confirmed in media reports that the school was reviewing Henderson’s dissertation after Bionaz made his accusation, only to cease all discussion of the case a month later, suddenly citing Henderson’s privacy.

Lon Kaufman, UIC’s former provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, shown here at a March 2014 meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, stepped down from his position weeks after Henderson’s lawsuit accused him of publicly discussing her student work. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Kaufman, then UIC’s vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, stepped down in the wake of Henderson’s lawsuit, returning to professor.

“This was hotly contested litigation,” Henderson’s attorney, Mike Leonard, told the Sun-Times.

“UIC actually took it up to the Illinois Appellate Court but didn’t get any relief from that court so was forced to litigate it. Ultimately, in Ms. Henderson, you’re talking about someone who has had a long and successful run in academia. I think they saw it would be difficult to defend the case publicly and quite a bit more expensive as well.”