Case #990

DATE: September 12, 2019
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.W.

Hearing Date: June 17, 2019

Panel Members:
Ms. Shantona Chaudhury, Chair
Professor Lynne Howarth, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Abdulwahab Sidiqi, Student Panel Member

Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Daniel Goldbloom, Goldbloom Law, Counsel for the Student

In Attendance:
The Student
Ms. Jennifer Dent, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Trial Division – s. B.i.1(d) of Code – plagiarism – Student purchased the work of another from an on-line source and represented it as her own for course credit – Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF) – Joint Submission on Penalty (JSP) – guilty plea – Tribunal should accept JSP unless exceptional circumstances apply – “purchased essay” offences are among most serious offences student can commit in university setting – expulsion most likely sanction for “purchased essay” offences – prompt acknowledgement of wrongdoing and cooperation with discipline process may justify less severe sanction than expulsion – mitigating factors included early admission of misconduct, guilty plea, cooperation with discipline process – no exceptional circumstances warranting rejection of JSP - grade of zero; five-year suspension; notation of sanction on Student’s academic record and transcript; and publication by Provost of notice of decision and sanctions with Student’s name withheld.

The Student was charged with academic misconduct under the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that she knowingly committed plagiarism by representing as her own idea or expression of an idea the work of another in partial completion of course requirements. The charges related to two separate assignments submitted by the Student for academic credit, which the Student admitted to having purchased from an on-line source. Specifically, the Student was charged with plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, obtaining unauthorized assistance under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code and in the alternative, academic dishonesty under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

The Student attended the hearing with Counsel. The parties submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts (“ASF”) wherein the Student pleaded guilty to knowingly committing plagiarism in submitting the two assignments as if they were her own work, knowing that she had purchased them from a third party. The Student did so to obtain an academic advantage in the course. The Panel stated that the onus was on the University to establish on a balance of probabilities, using clear and convincing evidence, that the academic offence charged had been committed by the Student. The Panel reviewed the documents provided by the parties in the Joint Book of Documents (“JBD”), and noted the marked difference between the quality of the work in the two assignments that the Student admitted to purchasing, and the Student’s mid-term test and other work done in class. The Panel was satisfied based on a review of the ASF, the documents in the JBD and the submissions of Counsel, that the University had proven the elements of the offence of plagiarism on a balance of probabilities. The Panel therefore accepted the Student’s guilty plea in respect of those charges. The University withdrew the charges of unauthorized assistance and academic dishonesty.

The parties submitted a Joint Submission on Penalty (“JSP”) in support of a final grade of zero in the course, a five-year suspension from the University and a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record and transcript from the date of the order until June 16, 2026 or her graduation from the University, whichever occurs first. The Panel noted that the determination of an appropriate penalty for academic misconduct is within its discretion and will depend on the particular circumstances of the case. In determining the appropriate sanction, the Panel stated that it should consider a) the character of the person charged; b) the likelihood of a repetition of the offence; c) the nature of the offence committed; d) any extenuating circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence; e) the detriment to the University occasioned by the offence; and f) the need to deter others from committing a similar offence. The Panel further noted that it was not obliged to accept a JSP; nonetheless, the Panel accepted that it should do so unless exceptional circumstances applied (where to give effect to it would be contrary to the public interest or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute). The Panel accepted that “purchased essay” offences are among the most serious offences that a student can commit in a university setting and that a severe sanction is required. It noted that expulsion should be considered a likely, perhaps the most likely, sanction for these offences. The Panel also accepted, however, that prompt acknowledgment of wrongdoing and cooperation with the discipline process may justify the imposition of a less severe sanction. The Panel took into account the mitigating factors in this case, including the Student’s early admission of misconduct, her guilty plea, her cooperation with the discipline process, her attendance at the hearing and her recognition of her wrongdoing. While expressing no opinion as to whether the University’s case would have been provable were it not for the Student’s admissions, the Panel did accept that the Student’s cooperation made the discipline process more efficient and less arduous for all concerned. In the absence of any exceptional circumstances warranting rejection of the JSP, the Panel found that the sanctions set out in the JSP should be imposed.

The Panel therefore imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero; a suspension from the University for a period of five years, to end June 16, 2024; and a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record and transcript from the date of the order until June 16, 2026 or her graduation from the University, whichever occurs first. The Panel also ordered that the case be reported to the Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and the sanctions imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.