Case 766

DATE: June 16, 2015
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. F.A.

Panel Members:
Ms. Sarah Kraicer, Chair
Professor Michael Evans, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Lucy Chau, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland, Barristers
Dr. Robin Marushia, Instructor for BIOA02H3: Life on Earth: Form, Function and Interactions, University of Toronto Scarborough

In Attendance:
Professor Wayne Dowler, Dean’s Designate, University of Toronto Scarborough
Ms. Natalie Ramtahal, Coordinator, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Not in Attendance: The Student

Trial Division – s. B.i.1(d) of Code – plagiarism – Student knowingly represented the ideas or expressions of another as her own in a formal lab report submitted for academic credit –Student did not attend hearing – reasonable notice of hearing provided – finding of guilt – no mitigating factors – no engagement in the discipline process – Tribunal sanctions should be reviewed for consistency with other Tribunal sanctions but not with divisional level sanctions – University not required to show how Student committed offence (whether Student plagiarized work of other student or vice versa); in either case, offence is committed and same sanctions apply - sanction for plagiarism must serve as effective deterrent - grade of zero; two year suspension from date of order; corresponding notation on Student’s academic record and transcript for three year period from date of order; and publication by Provost of notice of decision and sanctions with the Student’s name withheld.

The Student was charged with one count of academic misconduct under the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that she knowingly committed plagiarism in submitting a formal lab report for academic credit containing the ideas or the expressions of another as her own work. Specifically, the Student was charged with plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code. In the alternative, the Student was charged with obtaining unauthorized assistance in connection with the formal lab report under section B.i.1(b) of the Code and with academic dishonesty under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The Panel noted that the onus of proof is on the University under the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (the “Act”) and the University Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (the “Rules”) to establish that it provided the Student with reasonable notice of the hearing. The Panel heard evidence of the efforts made by the University to serve the Student with notice. It noted that the University provided notice to the Student by both courier and email to the Student’s ROSI mailing address and email account respectively. The Panel also noted the numerous efforts to communicate with the Student by email and by phone at the number provided by the Student. The Panel noted in particular that the University spoke by telephone to a person identifying herself as the Student’s mother who informed the University that she (the mother) had provided the Student with notice of the hearing. In addition, none of the emails sent to the Student bounced back and none of the courier packages were returned. No response was received from the Student. The Panel was satisfied that the totality of attempts made to provide notice to the Student demonstrated that notice had been adequately provided to the Student in accordance with the requirements of the Act and the Rules. As such, the Panel decided to proceed with the hearing in the Student’s absence.

The Panel noted the evidence of the coordinator of the course in which the Student was enrolled, who had responsibility for oversight of the course including marks management. The lab report submitted by the Student in this case was submitted via the website Turnitin.com (“Turnitin”), which is used for the detection of possible plagiarism. Turnitin in this case indicated a ‘similarity index’ of 68% between the report submitted by the Student and a report submitted by another student in the same course. As a result, the course coordinator examined the two reports and determined that there were significant similarities between the two. This was despite the fact that the two students were in different groups and not working from the same data set. The Panel noted that three of the five written pages of the Student’s report contained the identical verbatim text as that in the other student’s report and that the remaining two pages contained approximately 50% of the same text. The course coordinator twice requested a meeting with the Student to discuss the report but received no response.

The Panel stated that the onus was on the University to establish on clear and convincing evidence on a standard of probabilities that the academic offence charged had been committed. It agreed with the University’s submission that it was not required to show how the Student committed the offence (whether she plagiarized the work of the other student or assisted the other student in plagiarizing her work); in either case, the offence was committed and the same sanctions apply. The Tribunal determined that the evidence was cogent and compelling and established that the report submitted by the Student contained ideas or expressions of ideas that were not her own. The Tribunal found the Student guilty of plagiarism, contrary to s. B.i.1(d) of the Code. The remaining charges were withdrawn by the University.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the Panel noted the principles set out in University of Toronto v Mr. C (Case No. 1976/77-3; November 5, 1976) and noted the importance of consistency in the approach of the Tribunal to sanctions. Although the Tribunal did not consider itself bound by the ‘general standard’ argued for by the University of a two-year suspension in first cases of plagiarism, it did consider the sanctions proposed by the University to be appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances of this case. While there was limited evidence that the Student had received a zero grade on a lab report previously in a different course, the Tribunal accepted the University’s clarification that this case was considered to be a first offence. In this case, the Student did not respond to any communications from the University on this issue, did not attend the hearing and as a result, there were no mitigating circumstances for consideration. The Tribunal noted the seriousness of the offence of plagiarism, stating that this offence strikes at the heart of the integrity of academic work and undermines the essential relationship of trust, learning and teaching between all students and the University. The Tribunal stated that the grave threat that plagiarism poses to the core of academic integrity warrants a strong penalty and must serve as an effective deterrent. The seriousness in this case was somewhat lessened by the fact that the mark value of the plagiarized assignment was worth only 8% of the total course work.

The Tribunal did not consider the lighter sanction administered to the other student at divisional level for his similar plagiarism to be a relevant factor in determining the sanction for the Student in the instant case. It noted that the Student in this case failed to participate at any stage of the process. The Tribunal also stated that Tribunal sanctions should be reviewed for consistency with other Tribunal sanctions, and not with divisional level sanctions. The Tribunal imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero; a suspension from the University for a period of two years from the date of the order in this case, ending on April 12, 2017; and a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record and transcript from the date of the order, ending on April 12, 2018. The Tribunal also ordered that the case be reported to the Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and the sanctions imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.