Case #523

DATE: January 14, 2009
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Ms. A.K.

Hearing Date(s): November 11, 2008

Panel Members:
Mr. Andrew Pinto, Chair
Professor Marc Lewis, Faculty Member
Ms. Elena Kuzmin, Student Panel Member

Mr. Robert Centa, Asstant Discipline Counsel
Ms. Tina Lee, Associate to Mr. Centa
Professor Donald Dewees, Dean’s Designate, Faculty of Arts and Science
Mr. Isaac Tang, Student Representative, DLS
Ms. A.K., the Student (present)

Trial Division – s. B.i.1(a) of Code – forged documents – Academic Bridging Program application form and documents for post–admission transfer credits – Agreed Statement of Facts – guilty plea – language in application not understood and degree at foreign university not completed – financial, health and child–care challenges – fraudulent documentation purchased – mitigating factors undermined by two separate occurrences of misconduct – finding of guilt – material distinction not made in sanction between those directly perpetrating a fraud and those who contracts out fraudulent activity to third party – aggravating factor that fraud had commercial aspect – academic status relative to graduation – nearness of completion of degree relevant but not determinative factor in sanction – see The University of Toronto v. Student, Case No. 499 – no evidence that illness provided sufficient nexus to misconduct – tentative conclusions of medical evidence minimized mitigating effect – insufficient evidence of nexus between adverse circumstances and impugned conduct – see University of Toronto v. Student, Case No. 440 (2006-2007) – recommendation that the Student be expelled as per s. C.ii.(b)(i) of Code; permanent notation on academic record; and report to Provost

The Student was charged with four offences under s. B.i.1(a) and, alternatively, two offences under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to allegations that the Student falsified an application form submitted to the Academic Bridging Program at Woodsworth College, which failed to disclose that she had previously attended a post-secondary institution; and allegations that she knowingly submitted a forged transcript and course descriptions from a foreign university in support of her request for post-admission transfer credits. The Student pleaded guilty to the charges under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code. The matter proceeded based upon an Agreed Statement of Facts. The Student admitted to paying an individual in Turkey to forge the documents. The Panel accepted the Student’s guilty plea to the charges under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code. At the onset of the Student’s evidence, a Book of Documents (Penalty Phase) was provided for the first time to the University and the Panel. The Student claimed that she did not list her post-secondary attendance at the foreign university in the application form because at the time she did not understand the proper meaning of “abroad” and because she did not complete her degree at the university. The Student claimed that she had faced financial, health and child-care challenges since immigrating to Canada. She supported her claim of illness with letters from an endocrinologist and a psychological consultant. The Student claimed that a friend in Turkey had arranged for an individual to help her obtain her Transcript from the foreign university. The Student claimed that in desperation she agreed to purchase the fraudulent documentation from the individual. The Student claimed that with the exception of a cover letter, she did not know what false documentation had been sent to the University. The Panel observed that the Student’s misconduct occurred during two different time periods and found that it undermined the Student’s claim that her circumstances were relevant mitigating factors. The Panel found that the Student’s claim that she misunderstood the meaning of “abroad” was contradicted by her understanding of the term in other parts of the application. The Student’s claim that she did not list her studies at the foreign university because she did not complete her degree was undermined by the fact that the application provided for applicants to distinguish between post-secondary degrees sought and those actually conferred and because the Student indicated that she was employed in London around the time that she was actually enrolled at the foreign university. With respect to the forged documents, the Panel found that a material distinction should not be made in sanction between a student who directly perpetrated a fraud and one who contracted out the fraudulent activity to a third party and claimed ignorance. The Panel observed that the Student did not disclose her misconduct at the first opportunity or early in the discipline process. The Panel found that the commercial aspect of the fraud was an aggravating factor that supported expulsion because it related to the professionalization of the academic forgery business. The Panel considered The University of Toronto v. Student, Case No. 499 (2008-2009), and found that the nearness to completion of a degree was a relevant but not determinative factor in respect to sanction. The Panel stated that it advocated an approach that neither penalized nor rewarded a student in terms of sanction for the nearness to completion of a degree and that a better approach was for the Tribunal to have greater information on the consequences of the proposed sanction. The Panel found that the endocrinologist’s letter provided little evidence that the Student’s illness manifested in a way that would have impaired her judgment or provide a sufficient nexus to her misconduct. The Panel stated that the tentative conclusions of the psychological consultant’s report minimized the reliance it placed on it as evidence of mitigation in respect of the Student’s psychological frame of mind. The Panel stated that it was unable to have a greater appreciation of any mitigating factors without additional evidence about the Student’s character or the challenges she faced. The Panel considered the Student’s claim that she would be forced to return to Turkey if she was expelled and found that the outcome was based on a mix of personal and other factors that were not disclosed. The Panel considered University of Toronto v. Student, Case No. 440 (2006-2007), and found that while the Student appeared to be remorseful for her conduct and was unlikely to repeat the offence, there was insufficient evidence of a nexus between the adverse circumstances faced by the Student and her impugned conduct to impose a sanction other than expulsion. The Panel recommended to the President, further to s. C.ii.(b)(i) of the Code, that the Student be expelled from the University; that a permanent notation of the expulsion be recorded on her academic record and transcript; and that a report be issued to the Provost.