Case 980

DATE: May 5, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. V. T.

HEARING DATE: January 29, 2020

Panel Members:
Ms. Lisa Talbot, Chair
Professor Margaret MacNeill, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Jin Zhou, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

In Attendance:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Administrative Clerk & Hearing Secretary, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Not in Attendance: The Student

The Student was charged with two counts of academic misconduct under s. B.i.1(c) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”), and alternatively with one count under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code, on the basis that for one course he knowingly had another student in his class personate him by having the other student submit an in-class assignment in the Student’s name.  

Additionally, the Student was charged with respect to another course with seven counts under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code, and alternatively with one count under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code, for knowingly doing or omitting to do something for the purpose of aiding or assisting students to obtain unauthorized assistance in connection with course assignments. Specifically, the Student, in his capacity as a teaching assistant, provided unauthorized assistance to two students registered in a programming course. He provided solutions for coding exercises and assignments that the Student had received in his capacity as a teaching assistant and for his authorized duties only. The Student knew that he was not permitted to give, show, or make the instructor’s solutions available to students in Programming Languages. He also knew or ought to have known that doing so would breach the Code and violate his obligations as a teaching assistant. The students who received assistance from the Student knew him personally before the term in question. They did not pay for the assistance received.  

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The hearing proceeded on the basis of an Agreed Statement of Facts (“ASF”), in which the Student pleaded guilty to all charges and admitted that he had received a copy of the charges and reasonable notice of the hearing. The Panel accepted the Student’s consent to proceed in his absence and to waive his right to any further notice of the proceedings.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the Panel considered the Student’s character, the likelihood of repetition of the offences, the nature of the offences committed, extenuating circumstances, and the need for deterrence. Although the Student had no prior history of academic misconduct, the Panel noted that his repeated actions had occurred with two students. It further noted that the Student had actively concealed the facts, lied to the Dean’s designate and exhibited a disregard for the Code, which revealed a dishonesty in character. In discussing the Student’s ultimate cooperation and possible remorse, the Panel took into account that he had proceeded by way of a guilty plea, and an ASF and JSP. The Panel highlighted, however, that his cooperation came only after having engaged in a cover-up scheme and having been caught.

According to the Panel, several factors contributed to the likelihood that the Student would commit other offences, namely the fact that he had conspired with other students to avoid sanctions, committed academic offences as a student and committed repeated academic dishonesty as a teaching assistant with two students. The Panel held that these offences are serious. As mitigating factors, it considered the fact that the Student entered into guilty pleas and cooperated with the University by signing an ASF and agreeing to a JSP. As for the aggravating factors, it explained that the Student knowingly committed multiple offences and engaged in a cover-up scheme. In the Panel’s view, the Student engaged in a gross breach of the trust placed in him as a teaching assistant. On the issue of deterrence, it stressed that integrity is fundamental to the academic relationship and that students must be deterred from committing offences of academic dishonesty. It also stressed that teaching assistants, who are in a unique position of trust among the students at the University, must be beyond reproach and understand that any violation of their position of trust will be treated with great severity. It further added that students must understand that knowingly breaching the Code will not be tolerated and that they cannot seek to obtain unfair benefits from teaching assistants.

The University withdrew the alternative charges under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

The Panel imposed the following sanctions: grade assignment of zero for course; five-year suspension; recommendation of expulsion; publication by the Provost of a notice of the decision and the sanctions imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.