Saturday, January 18, 2014

“At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”: Angela Henderson is No Victim

Quotation in the title from comments made by Senator Joseph N. Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in the United States Senate, June 9, 1954.

As does almost every important issue at Chicago State, the uproar over Angela Henderson’s plagiarism is likely to take an ugly turn. The administration has dug in its heels. Henderson has not done the decent and correct thing by resigning in the wake of these most serious and well-documented plagiarism charges. Wayne Watson has done nothing to ease the university’s embarrassment by discharging Henderson. In fact, he sent his spokesperson out Tuesday to assure everyone that she would remain as provost “during and after” this episode. The damage this administrative stance will do to the university is impossible to calculate. How can, how will Watson and his supporters defend the indefensible?

Before I attempt to answer that question, I will say unequivocally that Henderson cheated to obtain her degree. Her plagiarism is not a matter of a few missing quotation marks or page numbers. Instead, her plagiarism is patently obvious and sustained over more than twenty pages at the heart of her dissertation. The originality checker I ran on her dissertation revealed nearly 40 percent of the work to be unoriginal. If anyone wishes to see for themselves, I will be happy to provide copies of the dissertation as well as the report I wrote detailing her myriad violations of academic integrity.

Since Leon Finney and Pat Quinn imposed Watson on Chicago State, Watson has demonstrated his contempt for the students, staff and faculty of this university in various ways, many of which have been detailed on this web site. In March 2013, under assault for his misdeeds and poor administrative performance, Watson defended himself by attacking his critics and playing the martyr. His defense at that point offers a glimpse into what I believe is coming in the next few days: the Watson camp will attempt to trivialize Henderson’s academic dishonesty, attack the messenger and position her as the victim in the whole episode. Remember when Henderson’s husband likened Watson’s travails to the suffering of Jesus or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Remember when a parade of witnesses who had nothing to do with Chicago State spoke out against the bullying Watson had to endure at the hands of a supposedly “ethically-compromised” Board of Trustees? The oppressor-as-victim strategy worked then and I suggest the Watson-Henderson camp will try something similar again. Since they cannot refute the substantive charges, what else do they have left? I will resist the temptation here to engage in a prolonged discussion about the cynicism of this strategy; about how reversing the roles of elite oppressor and victim trivializes the suffering of people who have experienced real persecution. In addition, the Watson-Henderson camp will likely interject race into their victimization narrative.

So, do we yet have a sense of what the defense strategy will be? I suggest that it is still being formulated but we have gotten early glimpses. The university’s response to the January 14 Tribune story featured Tom Wogan saying that “Right now we are talking about a series of claims made by some individuals who have shown they will go to great lengths to undermine any member of this administration in any way they can." The following day, Wogan accused me of “mischaracterization” and “bending” the enrollment numbers. Obviously, this is an early foray into attacking the Watson-Henderson critics over this specific issue. I suspect these efforts will intensify in the coming days.

The issue of race is coming. Two days ago, one of my colleagues reported that Watson criticized a group of African American faculty members for not coming to the defense of both Henderson and Cheri Sidney. I think Watson’s stance here illustrates perfectly the man’s manipulative and cynical propensities. One of the features of the Watson administration has been its persistent failure to understand this school’s students and faculty. Ignoring the fact that Chicago State students are hard-working, discerning and intelligent men and women, Watson and his minions have demonstrated that they view them as a bunch of weak-minded fools who are in thrall to the faculty. Watson’s behavior toward the faculty oozes contempt. In his view, we are rubes who will swallow any nonsense the administration dishes out. In fact, how dare we question any of the proclamations and decrees that come down from Mt. Olympus? Watson’s ham-handed recent attempt to split the faculty along racial lines is an appeal for support for his destructive behavior from a group of people who, in my estimation, have little in common with him professionally.

Based on my observations, I offer the following: Wayne Watson has done nothing scholarly since receiving his Ph.D. in 1972. His teaching experience is negligible. In contrast, the African American faculty at Chicago State consistently distinguish themselves in teaching and in their scholarly pursuits. They honor their responsibilities to the university and the community by their service to both. In comparison with Angela Henderson, they actually earned their advanced degrees. Finally, if the African American faculty feel that anyone on this campus should be defended, they are sufficiently articulate to formulate their own arguments. They do not require instruction on how or what to think.

Of course, the early “attacks” on Henderson and Sidney consisted of criticism of their lack of qualifications and their performance failures in key administrative positions. More recent “attacks” include criticism for their blatant dishonesty and–I think predictably–the ultimate academic disgrace: plagiarism by the university’s chief academic officer. Unfortunately, these ethical failings have not yet resulted in any apparent consequences. They are perfectly in tune with the practices of an ethically deficient administration led by a president whose job performance has been an utter failure.

In truth, this wretched scenario has produced victims. The students, current and past, of Chicago State University are victims; the school’s staff, faculty and administrators are victims; the citizens and taxpayers of the state of Illinois are victims, and persons who respect the standards and values of higher education are victims. Angela Henderson is not a victim. She brought this disgrace upon herself.


  1. Angela Henderson is certainly not a victim of anything other than her own sloppy work. What I wonder is whether students who are required to write a senior thesis will be held to common academic standards or will they be allowed to submit careless work with questionable documentation and citation. Henderson may cry and moan that she didn't do anything wrong all she wants. That she and Watson want to defend her actions only goes to show how utterly unqualified either of them is for the positions they hold.

    1. Last week was the first week of class when we commonly go over the class syllabus. We are required to have on all our syllabi a number of policies including the plagiarism policy. In my "Collective Behavior" course I asked students what the plagiarism policy at CSU was. One student blurted out in joking yet prescient manner that "if you get caught plagiarizing, you get a promotion."

  2. Don't worry, Hermene Hartman, another beneficiary of Watson's no-bid contracts, is already tweeting about the "attacks on black women" in the Tribune this week.

    Our "Ed-u-ca-tor of the Year" honored by the Thurgood Marshall Foundation in 2012 & 2013 should try living up to what his friends outside CSU proclaim him to be: "an extraordinary president or educational leader of a public HBCU or PBI, who has demonstrated outstanding business, academic and visionary leadership through unwavering action and highly effective management of his or her institution..."

    Well, you can fool some of the people some of the time...