Case #841

Case 841 - Appeal
DATE: March 13, 2017
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. L.S. ("the Student")

Hearing Date(s): November 29, 2016

Panel Members:
Mr. Shaun Laubman, Lawyer, Chair
Professor Graeme Hirst, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Harvey Lim, Student Panel Member

Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Barristers
Ms. Lucy Gaspini, Manager, Academic Integrity and Affairs, University of Toronto - Mississauga
Ms. Emma Planinc, Head Teaching Assistant for POL 200Y
The Student

In Attendance:
Ms. Tracey Gameiro, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances, University of Toronto
Mr. Sean Lourim, Technology Assistant, Office of the Governing Council

Trial Division - s. B.i.1(d), s.B.i.1(b), of Code - plagiarism or unauthorized aid - student's essay bore similarities to peer's essay after peer review process - lack of convincing evidence - unfair to penalize student for using idea shared in peer review - similarities considered in context and outweighed by evidence of independent analysis by student

The Student was charged with one offence of plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, and alternatively, use of an unauthorized aid under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code, and alternatively, academic dishonesty under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to a final essay in a course. All students in the course were given the option of a peer review process in which other students reviewed and commented on a draft of their work. The University alleged that the Student changed their paper after reviewing a colleague's draft, plagiarising that draft's thesis, structure, and arguments. However, the Student argued that they changed their topic before seeing their colleague's draft, and that some other similarities were the result of following their colleague's suggestions from the peer review.

The University was unable to show its case on clear and convincing evidence. The Tribunal engaged in a close reading of the Student's essay against their colleague's essay. While many similarities were found, some were the result of the typical structure and style of such essays, others were traced to the wording of the assignment, and others to the course readings. The Tribunal looked past superficial similarities of form, wording, and chosen citations, to determine that the Student had performed their own analysis. The Tribunal viewed such similarities against the overall context of each section in each paper. Moreover, there was limited evidence of the range of theses used in the class that could show that the Student's thesis was unusually similar to their colleague's. The Tribunal found that when a process is in place for peer review, it would be unfair to penalize a student for incorporating an idea arising from that process or to characterize it as unauthorized assistance.

One member of the Tribunal dissented. They agreed that the similarity of thesis could be chance, and that the similarity of essay structure was innocuous. However, they found that the formal similarity could be an indicator of plagiarism combined with other evidence. The dissenter considered that it was more likely that specific quotations from a given source were pulled from the Student's colleague's draft rather than from that source because the draft was 10 pages long while the source was at least 75 pages long, and the quotations were not obvious choices. The dissenter thought that the majority wrongly focussed on differences instead of similarities. Thus the dissenter would have found the Student guilty of plagiarism and academic misconduct. The dissenter agreed with the majority that it would be unjust to punish the Student by finding a fruit of the peer review process to be an unauthorized aid.