Case 1131

DATE: June 24, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. W.K.S. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: April 5, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Cynthia Kuehl, Chair
Professor Ian Crandall, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Alice Zhu, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Sonia Patel, Articling Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Hearing Secretary:
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Not in Attendance: The Student

The Student was charged under ss. B.i.1(d), B.i.1(f), and B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that he (a) on two occasions, knowingly represented the ideas of another, or the expressions of the ideas of another, as his own work in two assignments; (b) on three occasions, knowingly forged or in any other way altered or falsified a document or evidence required by the University in reference to three Verification of Student Illness or Injury Forms (“VOI”); and (c) on one occasion, knowingly submitted academic work containing a purported statement of fact or reference to a source which has been concocted in an assignment he submitted for a course. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage in various courses and assignments.     

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The Panel waited fifteen minutes after the hearing was scheduled to commence but the Student did not appear. Rule 9 of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”) provides that service can be effected via email to the student’s email address in ROSI. The Panel noted that students are responsible for maintaining a current and valid mailing address and University-issued email account on ROSI and are expected to retrieve mail and email on a frequent and consistent basis. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at his ROSI-listed email address with the charges, a disclosure brief, and the notice of electronic hearing. Counsel for the University provided further evidence that their office attempted to contact the Student via the ROSI email, LinkedIn and telephone to discuss the matter and hearing dates with the Student. The Panel also received evidence that the Student had last accessed his University email the day after the notice of electronic hearing was delivered. The Panel found that reasonable notice of the hearing had been provided to the Student in accordance with the rule 9 and 17 of the Rules and ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, therefore the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence.  

Regarding the charges laid under ss. B.i.1(d), B.i.1(f), and B.i.1(a) of the Code, the Panel examined the evidence of the two Professors who taught the courses for which the assignments in question were submitted as well as the Associate Registrar for the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. The Panel received evidence from the Professors that the Student was required to submit his assignments via Turnitin.com. The Turnitin Originality Report for the assignment submitted for POL208Y5Y had a 57% similarity index to other sources in the Turnitin database. The Professor explained that the Student quoted verbatim from secondary sources but did not use quotation marks, copied text from secondary sources near verbatim, and included a quotation on the assignment that was purported to be from the Professor’s slideshow but in fact, it did not appear in the slideshow. The Professor also noted that the Student had cited source material in some of the footnotes, but those citations were different than other material that the Professor had identified as the likely source of the content. The Professor for POL200Y5Y noted that Turnitin is an instrument for detecting plagiarism and is used as an initial screen only. The Professor provided evidence that when the Turnitin originality report returns a high similarity index, she reviews the citations herself. She testified that in this case she discovered that three lines of the assignment that were identical to the first lines of an online essay which the Student did not paraphrase or cite in their essay.

The Associate Registrar provided evidence that the Student submitted six petitions/VOI’s to defer four final exams. Two of the VOIs submitted were accepted by the University which allowed the deferral of two exams. Three additional VOIs were submitted by the Student as supporting documentation for the conditional deferrals granted to the Student. Upon investigation, the University determined that the registration number for the doctor did not match the doctor’s name nor did the hospital have any records of the Student attending that hospital. The Associate Registrar provided evidence that the Student admitted to the academic offences with reference to the two assignments submitted by the Student. However, the Student denied that he submitted the invalid VOIs to the Office of the Registrar and that the only VOIs he submitted were the two that the University accepted. On the evidence presented by the University, the Panel found that on the balance of probabilities the Student was guilty of two counts of knowingly representing the idea of another, or the expressions of the ideas of another, contrary to section B.i.1(d) of the Code but the Panel found that the University did not prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the Student concocted a source referenced in the assignment, contrary to B.i.1(f) of the Code. The Panel noted that for an allegation of concoction to be proven on a balance of probabilities, the University needs to demonstrate that the source that was cited could not be validated and, in this case, the Panel found that without such confirmation or validation, the University had not established this allegation. With respect to the remaining allegations under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code, the Panel found that the totality of the evidence supports a finding of guilt, namely that the Student made use of forged, altered or falsified documents in support of exam deferral requests. Given the Panel’s finding, the University withdrew the charge under s. B.i.3(b).  

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (“Mr. C. factors”) and determined that it was important to consider the very serious and deliberate nature of the offence, the detriment to the University and the need to deter others from committing similar offences. The Panel noted that this offence is very serious and deliberate in nature. The University must be able to trust that its students are submitting legitimate documentation in support of an accommodation or late withdrawal requests and when this trust is abused, they risk the ability of other students to obtain the same type of accommodation or request. The Panel further noted that general deterrence is an important factor in these cases and given the number of relevant cases, the misuse and falsification of VOIs is an ongoing issue at the University for which there must be deterrence. It also recognizes that plagiarism strikes at the heart of academic integrity and, accordingly, the Panel found that it is appropriate to send a strong message to students that this type of misconduct will be treated very seriously. Upon review of the relevant case law and the Mr. C. factors, the Panel found that the sanction proposed by the University was appropriate. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the courses; a four-year suspension; a five-year notation on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.