Case 991

DATE: July 6, 2020
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.W.

HEARING DATE: January 29, 2020 in person, May 7, 2020, via Zoom

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

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Megan Phiffer, Law Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Olivia Eng, Law Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
The Student

In Attendance:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Administrative Clerk & Hearing Secretary, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances (January 29, 2020 & May 7, 2020)
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeal, Discipline and Faculty Grievances (May 7, 2020)

The Student was initially charged with five counts under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) for knowingly using or possessing an unauthorized aid or aids or obtaining unauthorized assistance from a teaching assistant in connection with a programming course. The University subsequently withdrew three of these charges. Alternatively, she was charged with one count under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code for knowingly doing or omitting to do something to engage in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage. This was charge was also withdrawn.

The Student did not attend the hearing on January 29, 2020. Based on various affidavits and the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students, the Panel found that she had been served with the charges and the Notice of Hearing and had received reasonable notice of the hearing. The Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in her absence and found her guilty of two counts of knowingly obtaining unauthorized assistance, contrary to s. B.i.1(b) of the Code. Following the University’s submissions on penalty, the Panel adjourned the hearing to afford the Student a further opportunity to make submissions on penalty. The Panel accepted the Student’s subsequent adjournment request and reconvened on May 7, 2020 with her in attendance.

The Student admitted that she had engaged in misconduct and accepted the University’s sanctions set out in the JSP. The Panel found that she exhibited dishonesty and unethical character because she was prepared on two occasions to take unauthorized assistance and to copy the instructor’s solutions, and was prepared to exploit her relationship with a teaching assistant to obtain unauthorized assistance in a course in which she was registered. The Panel highlighted that the Student’s actions were not isolated, but repeated, indicating that she did not suffer a momentary lapse of judgment and was prepared to mislead and lie repeatedly to the University about the misconduct when confronted. Furthermore, the Panel noted that she had only admitted her misconduct, expressed remorse and indicated that she was prepared to accept the consequences at the continuation hearing, after having engaged in a conspiracy to mislead the University over many months. According to the Panel, the fact that she originally conspired with other students to avoid sanction for herself and for the teaching assistant suggests she would likely commit such an offence if she thought she would not get caught or to protect another student engaging in misconduct. It also noted that the Student sees a distinction between cheating on a lab and cheating on an exam suggests she would likely cheat again if she thought it wasn’t “serious”. Her engagement in multiple breaches of the Code also contributed to the Panel’s view that there is a likelihood of the Student committing ethical breaches again.

The Panel characterized the offences as serious because the Student was aware of what she was doing and aware that her actions were in breach of the Code. It also noted that she then deliberately misled the University in its investigation. According to the Panel, the Student’s admission and her expression of remorse constituted mitigating factors. The fact that the Student knowingly committed multiple offences and engaged in a scheme to cover-up the true facts from the University was viewed as aggravating factors. The University has an important interest in protecting the integrity of the institution. Such integrity is fundamental to the academic relationship important that students are deterred from committing academic dishonesty. Students must know that knowingly breaching the Code will not be tolerated. They must also know that they cannot seek to obtain unfair benefits from teaching assistants with whom they share a social network, or at all, and that doing so constitutes a breach of trust by everyone involved.

The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a grade assignment of zero in the course; up to five-year suspension; a recommendation to the President that the Student be expelled further to s. C.ii.(b)(i) of Code; report to Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and sanction imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.