Case 1181

DATE: November 5, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. A.K. ("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
Ms. Erica Berry, 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”). 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. In particular, in his view the answer given to question 2(a) was nonsensical in the same way as the answer given by another student. The Panel noted that the ASF furthered by outlining the Student’s meeting with the Dean’s Designate. At the meeting the Student admitted to obtaining unauthorized assistance from Chegg, posting exam questions on Chegg, and that he gave his Chegg password to many of his friends. Subsequent to the meeting, the Student sent an email to the Dean’s Designate advising that although the Student did not remember copying from Chegg for a particular answer, it would be difficult to make a case in his favour and because of this, he confessed to the offence. 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 two prior occasions. 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 two prior acts of plagiarism. The Panel furthered by considering the likelihood of repetition where it noted that one seriously aggravating factor is that this is the Student’s third offence, but the Panel is hopeful that this process brought home the message that dishonesty and academic misconduct is not a path to success. 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 Student’s two prior acts of misconduct make it difficult to compare to those submitted by the University. Nevertheless, the Panel accepted the JSP as 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.