Saturday, February 8, 2014

Protect Your Cronies at All Cost--Anatomy of a Scandal

In the three-plus weeks since the news of Angela Henderson’s plagiarized dissertation appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the relative public silence of the Watson camp has been notable. The only two public statements include an attempt to minimize the cheating by sending their mouthpiece out on January 14 to intone 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." Then, nine days later, Watson sent a memorandum to the university in which he called news of the plagiarism “an unwelcome distraction,” and admonished everyone to remember that “because something is alleged does not make it true.”

More recently, I have been told that Watson is furious about the incident. Not with Angela Henderson, but with me for bringing the plagiarism to light. In addition, at least one department chair seems to believe that I should have handled the matter more “discreetly” in order to save Chicago State and the University of Illinois at Chicago unnecessary embarrassment. All caused by me. I plan to return to these various comments later, but first I want to detail how this all came about so those persons interested in understanding the trajectory of this tragedy will not have to speculate as to how it occurred.

Several months ago I became aware of a rumor that Wayne Watson had been part of Angela Henderson’s dissertation committee, an activity that I viewed as ethically questionable. On Saturday, December 14, 2013, I found Henderson’s dissertation publicly available on a website called UIC Indigo. I made a copy of the public document and found that Watson had indeed been a member of her committee. As a matter of curiosity, I began reading the dissertation. On page 2, I found a passage that I thought suspect. The language seemed unoriginal and not reflective of the writing style in either the dedication or acknowledgments. I did a Google search and discovered that the material had come verbatim from a published journal article. The passage in Henderson’s dissertation contained neither quotation marks nor page numbers.

At this point, I checked the academic integrity policy of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Nursing and discovered that exact language not quoted or referenced appropriately constituted plagiarism and “intellectual theft.” For the next two-plus days, I examined Henderson’s dissertation for other incidents of plagiarism. I found a staggering number: dozens of passages taken verbatim without appropriate attribution or passages taken from sources not cited and passed off as her own review of the literature. I began marking the plagiarized passages on the dissertation and cataloging the plagiarism in what eventually became the report I submitted to UIC. That weekend, I also had the dissertation run through TurnItIn, which revealed that 37 percent of the material was unoriginal.

I did not use this report as the basis for my investigation. Rather, I accessed the articles from which Henderson had stolen material either through the Internet for articles available there, or through another university’s on-line journal holdings. Ultimately, the report I wrote included 27 separate incidents of plagiarism including more that 50 passages on just twenty pages (25-44). Subsequent examinations of Henderson’s dissertation revealed 82 separate plagiarized passages on 28 pages.

I never had any doubt that I would contact the Graduate College at UIC about what I had found. Thus, on the afternoon of Monday, December 16, I spoke with someone in the Graduate Dean’s office and notified them that I believed Henderson’s dissertation to be heavily plagiarized and that I had an ethical responsibility to report my findings. The next morning I received a call from one of the Graduate College administrators who told me that UIC had already removed the dissertation from the Indigo website and would notify ProQuest to remove the work from its cache of available dissertations. The administrator asked if I would be sending anything and I replied in the affirmative–that afternoon I forwarded a copy of the dissertation with the plagiarized passages noted as well as my report. The administrator also asked if I wished to be anonymous and I responded that I had no problem being identified as the source of the complaint. I have had no further conversation about these matters with anyone at UIC.

Turning from this simple chronology to the items I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I find it interesting that people who are ostensibly so worried about the academic integrity of the two institutions affected by this scandal are so willing to elide that issue and focus on extraneous nonsense. Whether I belong to a group of people “trying to undermine” this administration, whether Angela Henderson’s “rights” were violated in some way by UIC, whether or not the president is angry at me, and whether or not I failed to be “discreet” in this matter have no bearing on the central issue: none of these conversations would be occurring had Angela Henderson not plagiarized her dissertation. Any damage done to UIC or Chicago State is her responsibility.

Angela Henderson’s case demonstrates the ethical bankruptcy of this corrupt and incompetent administration. Wayne Watson claimed in his January 23 memo that “As President of CSU, I consider our reputation and our branding to be a very serious matter.” Not serious enough to take positive steps to protect that reputation, I guess. As he has done consistently since his arrival on this campus, Watson demonstrates in the Henderson (as well as the cases of Cheri Sidney and Tyra Austin) matter that fealty to his cronies transcends any loyalty to or concern for the university, its students, staff, faculty and administrators. After all, when you have your snout in the public trough, you want to eat your fill.

1 comment:

  1. Of course Watson is furious. Bullies and cheats hate the light. Professor Bionez is to be thanked for flipping the switch. If this were the case of a newly minted Ph.D. in an assistant professor's position, it could be that discretion would be a kind and quiet way to invite a plagiarizer to consider a career outside of Academia. In Henderson's case, because she was appointed as Interim Provost before she earned the degree, no such discretion is possible. There is a reason that the position of Provost is usually reserved for a mature scholar, with a solid record of excellence in teaching, research, and service as well as administrative experience. Henderson is not qualified for her position even without the careless plagiarism that characterizes her dissertation. If Watson doesn't want to be embarrassed in public, he should try to stop hiring people who are embarrassingly unqualified for their jobs. Or he and his cronies could continue to scuttle into hiding whenever a light is turned on.