Case #488

DATE: November 14, 2007
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Mr. S.B.


Hearing Date(s): September 6, 2007

Panel Members:
Mr. Raj Anand, Chair
Prof. Bruno Magliocchetti, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Christopher Oates, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel for the University
Mr. Steve Frankel, Law Student, Counsel for the Student
Mr. S.B., the Student, in attendance

In attendance:
Dr. Kristina Gourlay, Manager, Office of Student Academic Integrity
Mr. Mike Nicholson, Office of Student Academic Integrity

Trial Division - s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.1(f) of Code – plagiarism and concoction – plagiarized research paper containing concocted research source - similarities between research paper and internet websites – no correspondence between citations to print material and texts cited - guilty plea offered to resolve issue at decanal level – interview subject had memorized and read off website text - staffing issues contributed to delay in prosecuting charges – Student’s explanations not credible – finding of guilt - two prior plagiarism offences - inadequate responses to charges - offence committed while notation from second offence still outstanding and after instructions on how to avoid repeating offence - gap in causation between responsibilities as parent of disabled children and commission of misconduct - four-and-a-half-year delay in prosecuting charges not significant for penalty - no significance attached to voluntary absence during time span of charges – see case of Mr. S. - penalty not back dated – see case of Mr. S. and case of Mr. L. – serious breach of trust evokes at least two-year suspension and three-year or longer suspension for repeat offences - University submission on penalty accepted – grade assignment of zero for course; three-year suspension – four-year notation on transcript or until graduation; and report to Provost

Student charged under s. B.i.1(d), s. B.i.1(f), and alternatively, under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to allegations that the Student submitted a plagiarized research paper, portions of which were reproduced verbatim from unacknowledged internet sources, and which contained a personal interview which had been concocted as a source of research. The Student pleaded not guilty to the charges. The Student did not submit a required signed declaration attesting to his knowledge and compliance with plagiarism guidelines. The Panel considered the testimony of the course professor and found that there were extensive similarities between the Student’s research paper and several internet websites, and that many citations to print material contained within the paper did not correspond with the actual texts cited. At a Dean’s meeting, the Student originally denied any misconduct but offered to plead guilty if the University would agree to resolve the issue at the decanal level. The University argued that the extensive similarity between the internet source and the Student’s paper established that the personal interview had been concocted. The Student testified that he had interviewed a Buddhist monk as part of his research and that the monk had memorized the internet source and then repeated the words to the Student during the interview. The Student also claimed that the monk had read text from a piece of paper which was taken from the internet. The Student claimed that he did not think it was necessary to submit the required signed declaration regarding plagiarism because it should have been obvious to the course professor that he had not plagiarized. The Student claimed that he had been prepared to plead guilty at a Dean’s meeting because he perceived the Dean’s Designate to be a holy man who would bless him through punishment and because he wanted to avoid the shame of going before the Tribunal. The Panel found that staffing issues may have contributed to the delay between the date that the offence was committed and the date of the Dean’s meeting with the Student regarding the allegations. The Panel found that the Student’s explanations for the similarities between the paper and internet sources were not credible and that the sources were concocted because the citations did not match up to the sources cited. The Panel found the Student guilty of the charges under s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.1(f). The Student had committed two prior plagiarism offences. The Panel found that the Student provided inadequate responses to all previous and present charges against him and that apart from the Student’s personal circumstances, there was no evidence in favour of his character. The Panel found that the offence was the third of the same kind, and was committed while the notation on the Student’s transcript from the second offence was still outstanding and after he had received instructions on how to avoid repeating the offence. The Panel found that the offences went to the heart of the University’s trust relationship and were increasingly prevalent and more easily detected with the availability of the internet. The Panel found that there was a gap in causation between the Student’s responsibilities as a parent of two disabled children and the commission of the dishonest acts as a student. There was no evidence of the impact of the Student’s personal situation on the Student himself, or which tied his situation to a propensity for dishonest or irrational behaviour. The Panel found that the four-and-a-half-year delay in prosecuting the charges were not significant in terms of penalty. There was no evidence as to why the Student was not in class for a period of time. The Panel, as per the case of Mr. S. (August 24, 2007), attached no significance to the voluntary absence during the time span of the charges. There was no motion to dismiss the charges and no protest or warning of reliance on delay by the Student until the penalty phase of the hearing. The Panel considered the case of Mr. S. and the case of Mr. L. (August 13, 2007) and found that despite the charges pending against the Student for at least two years, the penalty should not be back dated. The Panel found that the University’s credibility, academic mission and degrees could be harmed by the commission of plagiarism and concoction. The Panel found that Tribunal decisions should send the message that academic cheating would be met with signification sanctions. The Panel found that the University’s submission on should be accepted. The Panel considered previous Tribunal cases and found that a serious breach of trust such as plagiarism and/or concoction should evoke a response of at least a two-year suspension for a first offence and a three year or longer suspension on a subsequent finding. The Panel considered the Student’s academic status relative to graduation and found that no evidence was called regarding the academic consequences of different potential penalties. The Panel observed that greater assistance, in the form of an agreed chart or statement concerning the implications of penalties, would help the Tribunal. The Panel imposed a grade of zero in the course; a three-year suspension; a four-year notation on the Student’s academic record and transcript (or until graduation, whichever was to occur first); and that a report be issued to the Provost.