Case #870

DATE: October 31, 2016

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.O. (“the Student”)
Hearing Date(s): September 22, 2016
Panel Members:
Paul Michell, Chair
Dr. Chris Koening-Woodyard, Faculty Panel Member
Sean McGowan, Student Panel Member
Appearances:
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel for the University
Professor Luc De Nil, Dean’s Designate, Vice-Dean, Students and Dean’s Designate for Academic Integrity, School of Graduate Studies
Mr. Victor Kim, Law Student, Downtown Legal Services, for the Student
In Attendance:
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
The Student
Mr. John Darmondy, Recording Technologist, Live Media
Ms. Vicki Vokas, Manager, Portfolio Services
Trial Division - s. B.i.1(a) and s. B.i.1(d) of Code – forged documents – plagiarism - forged reference letter in scholarship application – unattributed ideas in assignment – Agreed Statement of Facts - guilty plea – consideration of Mr. C. factors relevant to expulsion - second chance principle - premeditated calculating deliberate and intentional acts – final grade of zero in the two courses where the Student submitted the plagiarized assignments; recommendation that the Student be expelled; suspension pending expulsion; permanent notation on transcript; report to Provost
Student charged with one count of forgery under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code and two counts of plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code as well as four alternative charges of academic dishonesty and unauthorized assistance under s. B.i.1(b) and s.B.i.3(b) of the Code. The hearing proceeded by an Agreed Statement of Facts wherein the student admitted to forging a reference letter in a scholarship application, as well as to plagiarising assignments that she had submitted for course credit in two different courses. The Student was present at the hearing. The Student pled guilty to one charge of forgery and two plagiarism charges. Upon the Panel finding the Student guilty of these charges, the University withdrew four charges that had been made in the alternative.
The student testified at the penalty phase of the hearing, which focussed on whether an expulsion was an appropriate penalty. The Panel looked to the principles and factors described in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (November 5, 1976/77-3). The Student was of generally good character – a professional, single mother of four children in her 30s who had been working as a nurse for ten years prior to starting her graduate studies at the University. She had expressed remorse for her actions and concerns about their effect on her professional standing. She also pled guilty, which saved the University time and expense. These were the Student’s first offences at the University, however the Student had forged the reference letter within a month of starting her program and she used the same forged reference letter five months afterwards, which undermined the Student’s assertion that she was acting rashly. The Panel took into account a number of aggravating factors; namely, that both forgery and plagiarism are very serious offences; that the plagiarism here was intentional, extensive, and deliberate; that the Student had derived financial gain by being awarded a $10,000 scholarship that she had used the forged reference letter to apply for; at the same time, she deprived another student from being awarded that scholarship on a legitimate basis. She offered to return the money, but had not taken any steps to actually do so in the months since the forgery had been uncovered. The Panel also weighed the detriment to the University and the need to deter others from committing the same offence. The Panel acknowledged extenuating circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence including the Student’s difficult upbringing, family responsibilities, financial hardships, and health issues to be mitigating circumstances to varying degrees.
The Panel considered other cases where recommendation for expulsion had been made and found that forgery was a most serious academic offence, and usually warranted expulsion except in circumstances where there is a Joint Submission on Penalty or significant mitigating factors which were not present here. The Panel held the “second chance” principle did not apply on these facts given the seriousness of the offences, their detriment to the University, and need for general and specific deterrence. The Panel found that the commission of two other serious academic offences on top of forgery weighed in favor of expulsion in this case.
The Panel imposed a recommendation to the President that the Student be expelled, a grade of zero in the courses where the student had submitted the plagiarized assignments, immediate suspension for a period of five years with a corresponding notation on the Student’s record pending expulsion, a permanent notion of the sanction on the Student’s transcript, and a report to the Provost.