Case 1102

DATE: November 5, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.P. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: July 26, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Johanna Braden, Chair
Professor Ernest Lam, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Parsa Mahmud, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Nick Di-Biase, Representative for the Student, Downtown Legal Services
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Carmelle Salomon-Labbe, Associate Director, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged with two counts under s. B.i.1(b) and one count under s. B.ii.1(a)(ii) of the Code of Behaviour and Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) for knowingly using or possessing an unauthorized aid or aids or obtaining unauthorized assistance in a final exam, and knowingly aiding and assisting other students in a course to use or possess an unauthorized aid or aids or obtain unauthorized assistance. In addition and the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code for knowingly engaging in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage in connection with a final exam.        

The Student attended the hearing with his representative. The Student and the University submitted an Agreed Statement of Fact (“ASF”). The Panel noted that the ASF outlined that the Student admitted to all the charges. At the hearing, the Student agreed that he understood the charges and the nature and effect of his plea. The evidence before the Panel was outlined in the ASF and the Joint Book of Documents (“JBD”). The ASF outlined that the Student had written the final exam in the course and submitted it within the allotted time. Soon after submission, the Professor who taught the course for which the exam was submitted searched the text of the exam online to ensure no students in the course had posted it online. The Professor discovered that nine out of the eleven exam questions had been posted on Chegg.com (“Chegg”). This search also uncovered that question 2 of the exam was answered by a Chegg user. When the Professor checked the exam, he noted that the Student and another student had submitted identical answers for question 2. The identical answers also matched the visible portion of the answer on Chegg. The ASF further outlined that the Student attended an initial meeting with the Dean’s Designate at which time the meeting was adjourned to allow the Student to contact the Professor who taught the course. The Student attended a continuation of his meeting with the Dean’s Designate at which time he admitted to accessing and receiving unauthorized assistance from Chegg with respect to question 2 of the exam. The Panel noted that the ASF furthered to indicate that at a later date the Student Conduct & Academic Integrity Officer requested that Chegg provide the solutions posted to the website for the exam, and to identify the users that posted, answered, and accessed the questions. Upon receipt of the data from Chegg, the Academic Integrity Officer forwarded this to the Professor who taught the course. An analysis of this data indicated that three students (including the Student) posted multiple questions to Chegg seeking answers. The Panel noted that the ASF indicated that in the Professor’s view, it was highly unlikely that the similarities in the answers occurred by coincidence, given the length, level of detail, and unusual phrasing of the exam answers as well as the fact that many of them were wrong in the same specific ways. The Panel was satisfied that the Student’s admissions were voluntary, informed and unequivocal. Upon review of the evidence contained in the ASF and JBD, the Panel found that the Student used an unauthorized aid and obtained unauthorized assistance when he turned to Chegg for assistance with his final exam. Further, the Panel noted that although the Student may not have necessarily intended to aid other students, it accepted that by posting exam questions and seeking input on how to answer them, the Student effectively aided and assisted other students in the course who subscribed to Chegg. Accordingly, the Panel returned a finding of guilt with respect to the charges under ss. B.i.1(b) and B.ii.1(a)(ii) of the Code. Given this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.

In determining sanction, the Panel received, on consent of the parties, further evidence that the Student had previously admitted to academic misconduct on one prior occasion. The Student and the University submitted a Joint Submission on Penalty (“JSP”). The Panel noted that it should only depart from a JSP where the proposed sanction is so far outside the range of appropriate outcomes that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. The Panel considered the factors and principles relevant to sanction set out in University of Toronto and Mr. C (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976). The Panel noted that the Student attended the hearing and admitted to his wrongdoing, which shows some insight and remorse. Further, the Student has earned all his credits to graduate and improved his grades as he progressed in his courses. Balanced against these mitigating factors was the Student’s prior act of plagiarism. The Panel further noted that by cheating on his exam, the Student undermined the grades-based system of evaluation and broke the honour code that is essential to online learning. Regarding the need to deter others from committing similar offences, the Panel noted that cheating on exams must always be denounced and deterred in order to protect the academic integrity of the University. It furthered by outlining that in today’s online world, it is too easy for students to find new outlets for unauthorized assistance and students must understand that this kind of misconduct will have serious repercussions. In addition to the factors outlined in University of Toronto and Mr. C (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976) (“Mr. C. factors”), the Panel reviewed and considered the other cases of the Tribunal in similar circumstances. Upon review of the additional cases and consideration for the Mr. C. factors, the Panel noted that the JSP was squarely within the range of sanctions imposed in similar cases, it does not bring the administration of justice into disrepute and is not otherwise contrary to the public interest. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: final grade of zero in the course; three-year suspension; four-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.