Case #638

Case 638 - Sanction

DATE: September 23, 2013 and December 30, 2014
PARTIES: University of Toronto v M.F.E.

Panel Members:
Michael Hines, Chair
Richard Day, Faculty Member
Eleni Patsakos, Student Member
Hearing Date(s): March 28, 2013; May 6, 2013; May 22, 2013; June 12, 2013; January 21, 2014; and August 14, 2014
Appearances:
Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel
Adam Goodman, Counsel for M.F.E.
Olivier Sorin, Invigilator
Tamara Powell, Invigilator
Christopher Yip, Course Instructor
Jason Grenier, Course Instructor
Mostafa Showraki, Psychiatrist
M.F.E., The Student
In Attendance:
John Carter, Dean’s Designate, Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering
Natalie Ramtahal, Coordinator, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
Trial Division – s. B.i.1(b), s. B.i.1.(e) and s. B.i.3(b) of the Code – unauthorized aid, credit already obtained, and academic dishonesty - three counts in three different classes – medical accommodation – current accommodation unsuccessfully challenged – self plagiarism – altering evidence in an attempt to mislead – possession of an unauthorized aid during an exam – finding of guilt – knew or ought to have known – sanction – prior academic offence – mitigating factor of impairing medical conditions – aggravating factor of previous offences and knowledge of student discipline system – grade assignment of zero in the courses affected by her offences; 2½-year suspension; 2½-year notation on the Student’s academic record and transcript
Student charged under s. B.i.1(b), s. B.i.1(e), s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to separate allegations that the Student knowingly possessed an unauthorized aid in a term test, that the Student submitted work for which credit had previously been obtained, and that the Student engaged in a form of academic dishonesty, misconduct, or fraud not otherwise described in order to obtain academic advantage by attempting to deceive the University through the alteration and falsification of documents submitted in her defence. The Student was present for the hearing and represented by counsel.
The Student suffered from certain medical conditions which afforded her some accommodation and led expert testimony regarding her condition. The Student hoped to expand on the accommodation she had received , however, as the evidence did not establish causation as a matter of probability, the Panel concluded it would be improper to do so and gave no weight to the testimony in reaching its decision.
The first charge arose from a group assignment in which the Student was assigned a portion of the work. The Student submitted material which was essentially verbatim to a project that she had submitted over a year earlier. The instructor had given explicit instruction regarding academic offenses, required students to submit work through a plagiarism detection site and spoke on the issue in class. Additionally, all students were required to sign a “Declaration of Original Authorship” certifying that the students understand all definitions of academic offense including all forms of plagiarism. The Student did not deny reusing material, rather she claimed that she was unaware of the existence of self-plagiarism. The Panel concluded that it was her assumption that one cannot plagiarize oneself, not her condition, which led to her failure to internalize the warnings and found that she knowingly submitted work in violation of s. B.i.(e) of the Code.
The second charge arose from an email the instructor received from the Student notifying him that her assignment would be late. He noticed the email was forwarded from another email address. This and the wording of the email led him to believe that the assignment may have been authored by a different person (M). After meeting with the Dean’s Designate and the instructor the Student attempted further deception, claiming she sent the email to herself and altering versions of the email to prove this claim. The instructor noticed several discrepancies leading him to disbelieve the Student. The Student testified and called evidence that M had been a tutor to the Student though she herself had created the material submitted in the email. The Student had not provided this information earlier as she did not think corroborative evidence was allowed earlier in the proceeding. The Student also confirmed she attempted to mislead the University. For those reasons the Panel found the Student guilty of academic dishonesty not otherwise described in the Code.
The final charge arose from an exam the Student took with accommodations entitling her to a semi-private writing space and certain time breaks. The Student took a washroom break during which two invigilators became suspicious of clicking noises coming from the washroom. This prompted them to check the Student’s exam which was largely incomplete despite the exam being well underway. The Student returned after 22 minutes. The Student testified that she had taken a washroom break as she felt nauseous and while in the washroom had written notes on a pack of gum. She then used them on the exam. When approached by the invigilator, the Student asked him not to share the information with anyone. The instructor testified upon seeing the notes that they must have been written during the exam, and not prepared before, based on their structure. The Student claimed that while she knew she was in possession of an aid, she did not appreciate that it was unauthorized. However, based on her comments that she planned to “peek” at her notes to “sneak a look” the Panel found her guilty of knowingly possessing an unauthorized aid during an exam. The Panel concluded that even if the Student did not know she was in possession of an unauthorized aid, she ought reasonably to have known.
The sanction phase of the hearing occurred on a separate day.
With regard to the finding of guilt on the charge of submitting work for which credit had previously been obtained, the Panel concluded that although the Student’s medical condition may well have contributed to her failure to follow the rule against seeking double credit, it did not prevent her from understanding that rule. Further, given that other offences were committed, this offence was factored into the imposition of a more serious sanction than would otherwise be given.
With regard to the finding of guilt with respect to the possession of an unauthorized aid, the Panel noted that the information was created by the Student herself, without resort to external assistance, while she was on a washroom break. The Panel concluded that given the specific previous experience of the Student with the student discipline system, the Student’s medical conditions that might otherwise impair her ability to internalize rules forbidding self-produced exam aids did not mitigate the sanction.
With regard to the finding of guilt of academic dishonesty, the Panel noted that this was the most significant of the Student’s offences. This charge involved a determined, persistent effort to mislead the University regarding the facts of an investigation through deliberate, calculated efforts that, but for the determination of the Professor, would not have been revealed. Despite medical evidence as to the Student’s impaired judgment, the Panel found that the Student’s behaviour on this occasion reflected weaknesses in her integrity as a student.
Even taking the medical conditions into account, given the Student’s prior experience with academic discipline, her failure to promptly admit her attempted deception demonstrated a troubling disregard for the standards of honesty and integrity expected of students of the University. The Panel also took into account the specific impact on the Student in light of her desire to resume her studies at the University at the graduate level. The Panel imposed a grade assignment of zero in the courses affected by her offences; a 2½-year suspension; and a 2½-year notation on the Student’s academic record and transcript (or a 3½-year notation if the Student resumed her studies later than intended).