Case #546

DATE: May 31, 2010
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. K.X.

Hearing Date(s): May 4, 2010; May 10, 2010; May 20, 2010

Panel Members:
Michael Hines, Chair
Annette Sanger, Faculty Member
Mir Sadek Ali, Student Member

Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel for the University
Camille Labchuk, DLS for the Student (May 20, 2010)

Kristi Gourlay, manager, Office of Academic Integrity (May 10, 2010; May 20, 2010)

Tamara Jones, Academic Integrity Office

Justin Fisher, Academic Integrity Office (May 4, 2010)

John Britton, Dean's Designate (May 4, 2010; May 20, 2010)

Joshua Hjartarson, Instructor (May 4, 2010)

In Attendance:
K.X., the Student
Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Trial Division – s. B.i.1(d) of the Code – plagiarism – submitted essays containing plagiarized passages – plagiarism not deliberate – finding of guilt – Student ought to have known he was plagiarizing – presumptive two-year suspension for first offence plagiarism does not apply where deliberate plagiarism is neither admitted nor proven – cavalier attitude toward University rules off-setting personal mitigating circumstances – grade assignment of zero for the course; 18-month suspension; three-year notation on transcript or until graduation; report to Provost for publication.

Student charged with two offences under s. B.i.1(d) and, in the alternative, one offence under s. B.i.3(b)1 of the Code. The charges related to allegations that the Student submitted two essays, extensive portions of which were copied from other works without attribution. The Student pleaded not guilty. The professors became concerned about plagiarism when a report generated by indicated there was extensive verbatim and nearly verbatim copying from uncited sources. The professors emailed the Student to arrange a meeting. The Student stated that he believed that he was contacted by his professors because his essay was substandard. The Student responded to the email two days later indicating that he had just submitted a second version of the same essay, along with a medical certificate explaining he had been ill. The second essay was substantially different from the first, but still contained extensive material copied from other sources without attribution. The Student testified that this was the first time he had been required to submit a social science essay requiring proper citation. The Student suggested that the University did not take adequate time to teach students what was expected in this regard. The Student noted that the syllabus stated that a failure to use proper citation would result in a substantial penalty in calculating the assigned grade. The Student claimed that he inferred this meant that, at worst, failure to properly cite sources would result in a reduced score for his essay, rather than prosecution under the Code. The Panel found that the submission of the second essay containing as much plagiarism as the first supported the Student’s contention that he did not understand the rules. The Panel did not accept the University’s primary submission that the student knowingly engaged in deliberate wrongdoing. The Panel did accept, however, that the student ought to have known he was in violation of the Code. The Panel found the Student guilty of the charges under s. B.i.1(d). The University introduced in evidence a Letter of Reprimand dated April 29, 2008 that had been issued to the Student for taking a cell phone into a computer sciences exam. The Student testified that he was a single parent without a job; that he was working towards a degree so he could support himself and his son; and that he was only one course shy of completing his degree. The Student was willing to take a workshop on essay writing. The Student did not demonstrate an appreciation that he had committed plagiarism, nor did he indicate any remorse. The Panel noted that the presumptive two-year penalty for a first conviction on plagiarism should be modified in a case where deliberate plagiarism has neither been admitted to, nor established. The Panel stated that the potential mitigating force of the Student’s personal circumstances was offset by his cavalier attitude toward the rules of the University. The Panel imposed an a grade of zero in the course, an 18-month suspension, a notation on the Student’s transcript lasting three years or until graduation, and that the case be reported to the Provost for publication in the University newspaper.