Case #913

DATE: January 15, 2018

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. A.P. (“the Student”)
Hearing Date(s): October 16, 2017
Panel Members:
Mr. Paul Michell, Chair
Professor Dionne Aleman, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Ramz Aziz, Student Panel Member
Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel for the University, Paliare Roland Barristers
Dr. Kristi Gourlay, Manager and Academic Integrity Officer, Office of Student Academic Integrity, University of Toronto
Mr. Jackson Foreman, Law Student, Downtown Legal Services, for the Student
In Attendance:
The Student
Ms. Tracey Gameiro, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
Mr. Sean Lourim, Technology Assistant, Office of the Governing Council
Trial Division – s. B.i.3(a) of the Code - falsifying an academic record – student provided a forged degree certificate to a prospective employer – student’s LinkedIn profile claimed to have degrees that had not been granted by the University – application for employment containing false information – Agreed Statement of Facts – no prior offence – appropriate penalty where a student commits a number of serious offences and cooperates with the discipline process – dissenting panel member - recommendation of expulsion, suspension for a period of up to 5 years, corresponding notation on the Student’s transcript, and report to the Provost with the Student’s name withheld.
The Student was charged with two counts of forging or falsifying an academic record contrary to s. B.i.3(a) of the Code; and one count of engaging in academic dishonesty not otherwise described contrary to s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to the Student claiming that she had graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University in an application that she submitted to a prospective employer, a false degree certificate she had submitted to a prospective employer, and in maintaining a public LinkedIn Profile in which she claimed to have a Doctor of Philosophy degree and an Honours Bachelor of Science degree granted by the University. The matter proceeded by an Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF) in which the Student pled guilty to the first two charges. Upon the Panel’s acceptance of the Student’s guilty pleas, the University withdrew the third charge of academic dishonesty not otherwise described contrary to s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.
The Panel considered the Student’s argument that the penalty of expulsion should be reserved for cases where there is a combination of a serious offence and a failure to cooperate with the discipline process because to do otherwise would remove the incentive for students to cooperate. The Panel rejected this argument and held that the Student’s willingness to cooperate with the Provost, admit guilt, attend the hearing, agree to a statement of facts, or give evidence of mitigating circumstances do count for something: but they must be weighed and evaluated in the context of the other factors to determine the appropriate sanction. The effect they will have necessarily varies with the circumstances, as a Student’s cooperation is just one of Mr. C. [Case No. 1976/77-3; Nov. 5, 1976] factors to consider. The Panel noted that the penalty of expulsion has been imposed in a number of cases where students had cooperated with the process and shown remorse (e.g. M.K. [Case No. 491, November 5, 2008] where the mitigating circumstances were insufficient to outweigh the other Mr. C. factors; and A.L. [Case No. 590; August 10, 2010] at para. 18 where the penalty of expulsion was seen as consistent with other forgery cases). Where a penalty other than expulsion has been handed down in forgery cases, it has been where there has been a Joint Submission on Penalty or where a student has already received a degree (e.g. S.D. [Case 13 No. 406; May 1, 2007]).
The Panel then applied the Mr. C. factors to the Student’s circumstances: (1) The offences committed in this case were serious, and that the forgery of a degree, in particular, is a most serious offence; (2) The offences were deliberate, which generally justify expulsion (C.A. [Case No. 828; April 11, 2016] at para. 19); (3) the offences show the most serious lack of academic and personal integrity, and forgery in particular is often difficult to detect, which make general deterrence a factor to weigh heavily in favour of expulsion; (4) The offences cause harm to the reputation of the University and undermine the trust the employers have in the University, and other students who obtain legitimate degrees who must compete with those who falsely claim to hold degrees, which adds further weight in favour of expulsion; (5) Though the Student had admitted guilt, she tended to deflect responsibility for her actions during cross examination as well her letter to the prospective employer in which she admitted to lying about her qualifications failed to mention the forged degree certificate, so the mitigating weight is limited; (6) for specific deterrence, or the likelihood of reoffending, though these were the Student’s first offence, they were calculated; (7) the Panel found that the extenuating circumstances of supporting her family of four siblings after her father had a heart attack, the long commute, and the Student’s remorse to be extenuating circumstances but were given little weight given that it was apparent that the Student had not fully appreciated the extent of her misconduct through her actions in the hearing. After weighing all of these factors, the majority of the Panel conceded that if there had only been one offence, a lesser penalty may have been appropriate but given the seriousness of the conduct here, the first three factors outweighed the mitigating factors and a penalty of expulsion was appropriate. The Panel ordered: (a)a recommendation that the Student be expelled from the University; (b) a suspension from the University for up to five years from the date of the order, and that a corresponding notation be placed on her transcript; and (c) that that case be reported to the Provost for publication.
Dissent: The Student Panel Member dissented on the decision as to penalty and would have awarded a five-year suspension instead of an expulsion. The Student Panel Member reached this outcome because he accorded a different weight to the mitigating factors in the majority’s Mr. C. analysis. In particular, he found that a five-year suspension carried with it sufficient stigma to achieve general deterrence while at the same time, it would incentivize other students to cooperate with the discipline process. The Student Panel Member found that the Student’s circumstances were at the extreme end of extenuating circumstances a student can experience: a family tragedy, the disruption of her education, unexpected financial responsibility, and a misrepresentation to fulfill said responsibility - notably one that she could not easily rectify without harm to her loved ones. With more weight is allotted to the extenuating circumstances, the dissenting member of the Panel ordered a five-year suspension.