A Terrible Settlement by UIC for $694,000
It is shocking that the University of Illinois at Chicago would waste $694,000 in taxpayer funds to pay off a disgraced Chicago State administrator over a frivolous lawsuit. Angela Henderson was the acting provost at Chicago State when faculty critical of her took a look at her UIC dissertation and discovered strong evidence of plagiarism.
I can’t personally evaluate if Henderson committed plagiarism because she now keeps her dissertation secret. But in 2014, the Chicago Tribune asked three experts on plagiarism to evaluate the question:
“It is not sloppiness here or there, or plagiarism here or there, it is quite often,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, editor of a book on academic ethics. “It is clear that this work is problematic enough that it needs to be looked at and perhaps withdrawn.”Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, said the examples ranged from “really sloppy or poor citation” to “quite problematic.”Daniel Wueste, director of the Rutland Institute for Ethics, also at Clemson, noted “significant problems” that suggest Henderson lacks “a full and complete understanding of academic protocols and scholarly expectations.”“That is a problem if that person is provost of a university,” Wueste said
As the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “Is that plagiarism? Yes.” Unfortunately, a UIC hearing officer disagreed with all of these academic experts in the field and ruled that it was not plagiarism.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Henderson’s lawsuit accused the university of violating the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by publicly discussing her Ph.D. Dissertation.”
A dissertation is not a private educational record. A dissertation is a public document displaying scholarship. In fact, that’s how the plagiarism was discovered. When you have a public scholarly document, it cannot be a violation of FERPA to announce an investigation of that document.
Second, it is not a violation of FERPA for universities to announce that they are investigating allegations. Imagine if universities were prohibited from ever revealing (even to the victims) if an alleged racist on campus was being investigated for a hate crime. FERPA is being abused when it is used to impose a shroud of complete secrecy on campus disciplinary processes, and this settlement will make that secrecy much worse.
FERPA is a puzzling basis for a lawsuit, since the Supreme Court has ruled that individual students cannot sue for FERPA violations, they can only file complaints to the government about it. So Henderson’s lawsuit settlement is for harm to reputation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It is ridiculous to assert that UIC caused the harm to Henderson by merely stating that it was investigating claims (an investigation that Henderson now uses to support her reputation by claiming it exonerated her), when the real harm to Henderson’s reputation came from the critics and the newspaper that openly declared her a plagiarist.
It is dangerous to free speech when FERPA is used to suppress criticism of top college administrators and their scholarly work in this way. This settlement will have an chilling effect on academia, silencing criticism of academic misconduct and keeping the disciplinary process at colleges shrouded in complete secrecy for fear of lawsuits.