Case #1023

DATE: October 21, 2019

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. D.A-S.

HEARING DATES: June 24, 2019, July 5, 2019 and July 22, 2019

Panel Members:
Mr. Shaun Laubman, Chair
Professor Dionne Aleman, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Elizabeth Frangos, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Meg Cormack, Downtown Legal Services

In Attendance:
The Student
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged in connection with three separate offences under the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that she knowingly committed plagiarism in submitting for academic credit a lab report and two book reports containing an idea or an expression of an idea or the work of another as her own. Specifically, the Student was charged with plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, and in the alternative, unauthorized assistance under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code.

Regarding the charge of plagiarism in respect of the lab report, the Panel heard evidence that the report submitted by the Student received a result of 0% when checked using Turnitin.com. The course instructor noted that the Student’s report had been submitted in PDF format and had not been read properly. The Student was asked to resubmit the report in a readable Word format. This time the report yielded a high degree of similarity to a report submitted by a different student for the same class the previous year. The course instructor gave evidence that he had never seen the extent of overlap that existed between the Student’s report and the one submitted the previous year by a different student. The course instructor also compared the original PDF report submitted by the Student and the Word version subsequently submitted, and noted a number of changes between the two documents. The Tribunal accepted that it was reasonable to draw the inference from the evidence that the Student made changes to her report in an effort to avoid detection. The Student denied that she had plagiarized the report but had no credible explanation for the extensive and obvious similarities between her lab report and the earlier report that she was accused of plagiarizing. The Panel found the Student guilty of plagiarism in respect of the lab report.

Regarding the charge of plagiarism in respect of the first book report, the course Professor testified that he had been struck by the sophistication of the language used by the Student and the bizarre word selection throughout. The Professor did a Google search for reviews of the book in question and discovered two reviews on-line with a number of passages that were identical to the review submitted by the Student except for apparent selective word changes. The Student denied she had seen the on-line reviews but had no credible explanation for the similarities between those two reviews and her own. The Panel found the Student guilty of plagiarism in respect of the first book review.

For the second book report no source material was presented. The Professor gave evidence that he found that the second report used very sophisticated terminology. He had searched for a source for the content but could not find any. The Student denied any plagiarism. On the limited evidence submitted by the University, the Tribunal was not satisfied that the charges in respect of the second book report were made out. The Student was acquitted of this charge.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the Panel refused to find the fact that the lab report and first book report were worth a relatively low percentage of the overall grade in the respective courses to be a persuasive factor, in light of the University’s submissions regarding the seriousness of plagiarism and its impact on the University. The Panel noted the following aggravating factors: there were multiple offences; the Student deliberately and repeatedly took steps to prevent her plagiarism from being detected; the Student exhibited a lack of remorse and responsibility for her actions; finally, the Tribunal took the view that a penalty of the same or less duration than the Student’s current academic suspension would not have any deterrent effect, and anything longer would be unduly harsh and prejudicial

The Tribunal imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the two affected courses; a four year suspension from the University commencing July 22, 2019 and running concurrently with an academic suspension; and a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record and transcript for a period of five years, commencing July 22, 2019. The Tribunal also ordered that the case be reported to the Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and the sanctions imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.