Case #846

DATE: September 21, 2016
PARTIES: University of Toronto Mississauga v. Z.W. (“the Student”)

Hearing Date(s): June 24, 2016

Panel Members:
Mr. Andrew Pinto, Lawyer, Chair
Professor Louis Florence, Faculty Panel Member Ms. Raylesha Parker, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Barristers
Professor Judith Poë, Bioinorganic Chemistry & Chemistry Education, University of Toronto, Mississauga
Professor Christoph Richter, Associate Chair, Undergraduate, Biology, University of Toronto, Mississauga
Ms. Lucy Gaspini, Manager, Academic Integrity and Affairs, Office of the Dean, University of Toronto, Mississauga

In Attendance:
Ms. Z.W., the Student
Ms. Diane Matias, (Observer), Undergraduate Advisor, Department of Biology, University of Toronto, Mississauga
Ms. Tracey Gameiro, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty
Grievances, University of Toronto

Trial Division – s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.3(b) of the Code – plagiarism – laboratory assignments contained text copied from website – consequences of plagiarism for ‘draft’ assignments – finding of guilt – no prior offences – no evidence of extenuating circumstances – no mitigating evidence – not having been previously engaged in a discipline process not a mitigating factor participating in discipline process but denying wrongdoing not akin to ‘cooperation’ – distinction between a student who commits a second offence after imposition of an academic discipline process resulting in a guilty finding and a student who commits multiple infractions prior to the imposition of a first academic process - grade assignment of zero in two courses; two-year suspension; three year notation on transcript; and report to the Provost.

Student charged with 4 offences under s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to laboratory assignments, one in chemistry and one in biology, that were submitted in partial completion of course requirements. The laboratory assignments were handed in two days apart. They contained unattributed ideas, the expression of ideas, and verbatim or nearly verbatim text from a website that the student represented as her own ideas.

The Student participated in both the Dean's Designate meeting and the Tribunal hearing. The Student admitted to copying portions of the assignment from the Internet, but denied wrongdoing. The Panel found the Student ought reasonably to have known that her conduct was unacceptable and constituted an academic offence. The Panel also rejected the Student's suggestion that, because the assignment in one course involved submitting a mere "draft" and not the final report, submitting work that was not her own, was acceptable. Upon finding the Student guilty of plagiarism, the University withdrew the academic dishonesty charges.

In sanctioning the Student, the Panel acknowledged that the Student did not have a prior discipline history. The Panel emphasized that whether or not a student has participated in a prior academic discipline process is but one factor among many that must be weighed in the sanctioning process. That a student has not engaged previously in a discipline process is not a mitigating factor. Rather, where a student is found guilty of an academic infraction that was committed after the student participated in an academic discipline process, the Panel will consider this as a factor that may warrant a more serious sanction since the student's prospects for rehabilitation are diminished.

Here, the charges related to two infractions that occurred days apart, but prior to any meeting with the Dean’s Designate or engagement with the academic discipline process. The Panel accepted that in situations like this, the University distinguishes between a student who commits a second offence after the imposition of an academic discipline process that results in a finding of guilt, and a student who commits multiple infractions prior to the imposition of a first academic discipline process.

In the former situation, the University can legitimately assert that the student committed the second offence despite involvement in the University's discipline process. These circumstances reflect poorly on the student's ability or willingness to have gained insight from the discipline process. In the latter situation, however, the University would not be able to assert that the student ought to have gained insight from the academic discipline process. Depending on the facts, particularly where the infractions occurred within a relatively short period, multiple infractions may be bundled up in one offence or be considered two or more offences that occurred within a short spate of time.

The Panel did not accept University Counsel’s submission on a penalty of three years’ suspension, distinguishing the Student’s case from precedent where three years’ suspension was found to be an appropriate penalty. Here the student committed two distinct infractions prior to any involvement with the discipline process so the Student’s ability to learn from her misconduct was limited by the close succession of the offences. The Student had no prior record of academic dishonesty. Finally, she attended the Dean’s Designate meeting and the Tribunal hearing. She denied wrongdoing throughout so it could not be said that she “cooperated” in the discipline process, but the Panel found that it would be incorrect to treat the Student akin to students who partially or wholly avoid the discipline process altogether.

The Panel imposed a final grade of zero in two courses; suspension from the University for two years; the sanction be recorded on the Student’s academic record and transcript for three years; and reporting to the Provost.