Case 1219

DATE: December 9, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. S.S. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: September 16, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Erin Dann, Chair
Professor Glen Jones, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Madison Kerr, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Not in Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Carmelle Salomon-Labbé, Associate Director, 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 her own an idea or expression of an idea and/or the work of another in a research paper. 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 not otherwise described in the Code in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage of any kind in connection with a research paper.

The Student did not appear at the hearing but corresponded with Assistant Discipline Counsel prior to the hearing and requested that the hearing be conducted in her absence. The parties were able to reach an agreement and the hearing proceeded on the basis of an Agreed Statement of Facts (“ASF”) and a Joint Submission on Penalty (“JSP”). The Panel noted that pursuant to ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”), and rule 17 of the University Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure, where reasonable notice of an oral hearing was given to a party in accordance with the SPPA and the party does not attend, the Tribunal may proceed in the absence of the party, and the party is not entitled to any further notice of the proceeding. The Panel further noted that the ASF outlined that the Student acknowledged receiving notice of the hearing and requested that it proceed in her absence. Furthermore, the ASF outlined that the Student was aware that the Tribunal may find her guilty of academic misconduct and may impose a penalty greater than that set out in the joint submission on penalty. Given the joint request of the University and the Student, the Panel exercised its direction to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Student.

Regarding the charge laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel noted that the ASF outlined that Turnitin.com detected that the Student’s research paper included several verbatim and nearly verbatim passages from two sources without proper citation or attribution. The ASF furthered by outlining that the Professor who taught the course for which the research paper in question was submitted reviewed the paper and the two sources. Upon review, the Professor determined that the Student had included several verbatim and nearly verbatim passages from the sources in her research paper without proper citation or attribution. The Panel noted that the Student acknowledged in the ASF that she committed plagiarism when she submitted her research paper without proper citation or attribution. Based on the Student’s admissions, the ASF, and the supporting materials, the Panel concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence, on a balance of probabilities, that the plagiarism charge has been proven and it accepted the Student’s guilty plea with respect to that charge. Given this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.

The Panel considered the JSP submitted jointly by the Student and the University. The Panel noted, absent exceptional circumstances, panels are expected to accept and implement a joint submission. As set out in the Discipline Appeals Board decision in The University of Toronto and M. A. (Case No. 837, December 22, 2016), a joint submission on penalty may be rejected by a panel only in circumstances where to give effect to it would be contrary to the public interest or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. In this case, it was the Panel’s view that the joint submission was neither contrary to the public interest, nor would it bring the administration of justice into disrepute. In arriving at this decision, the Panel considered the nature of the offence, the detriment to the University occasioned by the offence, the need to deter other students, the character of the Student, and the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence. The Panel noted that plagiarism is a serious offence that diminishes the relationship of trust between the University and its students, and it undermines the evaluative process fundamental to the academic setting. The Panel further considered that the Student had two prior plagiarism offences and therefore, the failure to properly reference the sources in the research paper could not be characterized as a one-time lapse in judgment. The Panel also considered the mitigating factors; the Panel noted that the Student admitted guilt and entered into an ASF and JSP which demonstrated insight and remorse, and that the Student was experiencing health issues at the time of the offence. In consideration of all the circumstances, and the relevant cases provided by the parties in support of the JSP, the Panel accepted the JSP. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a three-year suspension; a four-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.