Case 1151

DATE: November 30, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. S.L. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: September 14, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Dena Varah, Chair
Professor Michael Saini, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Samantha Chang, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Not in Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Nadia Bruno, Special Projects Officer, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly represented as their own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in a final exam. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly obtained unauthorized assistance in connection with a final exam. In the further 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 connection with a final exam.

The Student did not attend the hearing. Counsel for the University of Toronto (“University”) provided evidence that the Student was served with the notice of hearing via email to the email address that the Student provided in the Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”). The University furthered by providing evidence that counsel’s office emailed the Student to advise of the hearing date and to provide the Student additional documents. The Panel noted that the Student did not respond to these emails. On a subsequent occasion, counsel’s office telephoned the Student at the number provided in ROSI, but the Student did not answer and since the voicemail was automated, it did not indicate the person to whom the voicemail box belonged. Counsel’s office left a detailed message. After this, counsel sent a courier package to the Student’s address as outlined in ROSI and the package was signed for by “Glen.” The Panel noted that although it did not appear that the Student accessed his email address, it was satisfied that pursuant to the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”) and the University Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”), the Student received reasonable notice of the hearing. The Rules provide that service is effected by sending a copy of the document to the Student’s mailing address contained in ROSI or by emailing a copy to the email address. The Panel noted that numerous steps were taken above and beyond the requirements of the Rules and the SPPA and therefore, the Panel was satisfied to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Student.

Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel received evidence in the form of an affidavit by a Professor who assisted with the administration of the final exam in the course for which the final exam in question was submitted. The Panel was satisfied that the facts contained, and documents attached, in the Professor’s affidavit were admissible for the truth of their contents. The Panel did not require the Professor to provide viva voce evidence. The Professor’s affidavit outlined that Chegg.com is a subscription-based website that allows students to post problems, which are then answered by “experts.” The affidavit further outlined that, instructors and teaching assistants in the course found that several problems on the final exam were posted on Chegg.com during the time period that students had to complete the final exam. The Professor’s affidavit furthered by outlining that the instructors found that there were significant similarities between the Student’s answers and the answer to one question that they had seen posted on Chegg.com. Upon his review, the Professor noted that the similarities were suspicious because the answers were virtually identical, and the answer contained significant errors. The Professor further noted that it was “highly unlikely” that a student would make the same logical error as the Chegg.com answer. The University submitted an affidavit of an Academic Integrity Specialist (“AIS”) with the Student Academic Integrity Office of the Faculty of Arts and Science. The Panel did not require that the AIS provide viva voce evidence. The AIS’ affidavit outlined that she met with the Student and the Dean’s Designate regarding the allegations. The Panel noted that the AIS outlined that at the meeting the Student denied any knowledge of Chegg.com. The Student indicated that he had a private tutor who had previously given the Student several questions and answers from previous exams. The Panel received affidavit evidence of an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University. The Panel deemed the affidavit of the Associate Professor to be admissible with no requirement for viva voce evidence. It was the Associate Professor’s evidence that she created the problem to the question and did so directly before the final exam in the course. Furthermore, only the instructors in the course had access to the question before the final exam. The Panel noted that the explanation of the Student would have been unlikely even if the question had not been unique or recently created. The explanation relies on an unknown tutor having access to past exam questions, advising the Student to memorize the answers instead of learning to solve them, and providing an answer that was incorrect in the exact way as it was posted on Chegg.com. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence supported a finding of guilt with respect to the offence under section B.i.1(d) of the Code. As a result of this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charges.

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the factors outlined in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976). The Panel outlined that there was no evidence of the character of the Student or other mitigating factors on penalty. The Panel noted that this was the Student’s first offence and that there was not enough evidence to determine whether an offence was likely to be repeated or whether there were other aggravating or mitigating factors. Counsel for the University asked the Panel to consider that the Code provides a guide for penalty on the first offence of representing another’s ideas as one’s own. The Panel noted that although the guide is not binding, it demonstrates the expectations that have been communicated to students in the event that they violate the Code. Counsel relied on several precedents in which students committed similar offences. The Panel noted that although the precedents do not bind the Panel, it is important to have general consistency at the Tribunal. The Panel found that the penalty sought by the University was appropriate given the serious nature of the offence and the need for general deterrence. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension; a three-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.