Case #456

DATE: information not available
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Mr. J.D.


Hearing Date(s): February 6, 2007

Members of the Panel:
Mr. Raj Anand, Chair
Prof. James Rini, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Sara Ageorlo, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Counsel for the University of Toronto
Mr. Guy Giorno, Counsel for the Student
Mr. J. D., the Student

In attendance:
Professor Susan Pfeiffer, Dean, School of Graduate Studies, & Vice Provost, Graduate Education

Trial Division - s. B.i.1(f)of Code – concoction – altered clinical data in thesis – Agreed Statement of Facts – guilty plea – altered research included in report and published papers – data altered contrary to s. 3(i) of Policy on Ethical Conduct in Research – Agreed Statement of Fact silent on details of motive – Joint Submission on Penalty – academic status – proposed suspension informed by duration Student could be absent from research work - extenuating circumstances unique in jurisprudence - academic misconduct admitted despite no possibility of discovery - nature of detriment to University unclear - no evidence supporting stress experienced by Student and stress not unusual in academic life – Joint Submission on Penalty accepted - recommendation that the Student’s Master of Science Degree be cancelled and revoked, as per s. C .ii.(b)(j)(i) of Code; six-month suspension; grade assignment of NCR for course; two-year notation on transcript; and report to Provost

Student charged with two offences under s. B.i.1(f) and, and alternatively, under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to allegations that the Student submitted a Master’s thesis containing the results of research that included altered clinical data. The matter proceeded on an Agreed Statement of Facts. The Student pleaded guilty to the charge under s. B.i.1(f) of the Code. The altered research data was also included in a final report to the WSIB Research Advisory Council and in two papers submitted for publication by two of the Student’s thesis committee members. By altering data, the Student acted contrary to s. 3(i) of the University’s Policy on Ethical Conduct in Research. The Student voluntarily disclosed that he had altered the research data. The Panel considered the Student’s motives for altering the data and found that the Agreed Statement of Facts was silent on whether by “better result” the Student meant to achieve comparable sample sizes or to change the outcome of his research. The Panel accepted the Student’s guilty plea to the charge under s. B.i.1(f) of the Code. The parties submitted a Joint Submission on Penalty. The Panel considered the impact of the proposed sanction on the Student’s status as a doctoral student. The University argued that although a suspension of six months appeared lenient compared to previous Tribunal decisions, six months was the longest that the Student could be absent from his research work before his work would have to be given to another researcher. The Panel considered a Book of Authorities and observed that there had been only one other revocation case on record, the case of Mr. R. (November 13, 1996). The Panel observed that discussions regarding the Student’s further registration status had been of a hypothetical nature and that the case was the only case on record wherein a student came forward and admitted academic misconduct despite there being almost no possibility of being discovered. The Panel found that the fabrication of data, followed by the publication of the falsified data in published research papers and a thesis, undermined the integrity, reputation and credibility of the University. The Panel observed that the proposed penalty was serious, in that the Student would lose his masters degree and the permanent notation would require him to explain the cancellation in any university or employment application, but that it would not prevent him from rehabilitating himself by resuming his studies. The Panel observed that the case presented extenuating circumstances unique in the Tribunal jurisprudence: had it not been for the Student’s voluntary disclosure, the alteration of the data would not likely have been discovered; he cooperated fully with the University; and he expressed his remorse throughout the proceedings. The Panel found that the remorse the Student expressed militated against the likelihood that he would repeat similar misconduct. The Panel considered the Agreed Statement of Fact and found that the nature of the detriment to the University was unclear because there was no independent validation of the conclusion that the Student's fabrications of data did not affect the validity of his research. With regard to the Student’s motive for his actions, the Panel found it difficult to evaluate the weight to be given to the agreed facts as an extenuating circumstance because there was no medical or other expert evidence supporting that the Student had been experiencing stress from his research and academic workload, and because stress was not unusual in the course of academic life. The Panel accepted the Joint Submission on Penalty and imposed a recommendation to Governing Council, further to s. C .ii.(b)(j)(i) of the Code, that the Student’s Master of Science Degree be cancelled and revoked; a six-month suspension from the University; a grade assignment of NCR in the course; a two-year notation on the Student’s academic record and transcript; and that a report be issued to the Provost.