Cases #596, 597, 598

Cases 596, 597, 598 - Appeal
DATE: November 10, 2010
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. C.H.K.


Hearing Date(s): June 14, 2010

Panel Members:
Julie Hannaford, Chair
Professor Andrea Litvack, Faculty Member
Sybil Derrible, Student Member


Appearances:
Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel for the University
Camille Labchuk, DLS
Joshua Chan, DLS
Alyssa Manji, DLS


In Attendance:
Tamara Jones, Academic Integrity Officer (formerly)
John Browne, Dean's Designate
Rebecca Smith, Coordinator, Student Crisis Response Program
Natalie Ramtahal, Coordinator, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Note: Overturned on appeal.

Majority:Trial Division – s. B.i.1(d) of Code – plagiarism – essays purchased from a commercial provider of essays – Agreed Statement of Facts – guilty plea – finding of guilt – each Student had at least two previous offences (H had previously purchased an essay) – Students collaborated on a 2% quiz – Students were also victims – previous offences did not indicate a continuum of planned and deliberate dishonesty – a five-year suspension arguably had the same deterrent effect as an expulsion – except for most egregious offences, expulsion should be reserved for when there is a repetition in kind of offences – precedents should be considered only as guidance – Students’ expression of remorse was clear and unwavering – grade assignment of zero for course; five-year suspension; notation on transcript until graduation; report to Provost

Dissent: Extenuating circumstance is but only one factor to be considered – For extenuating circumstances to play a role, there has to be a connection between the causative symptom and the academic offence; the onus is on the Student to show that there was a close connection – C did not want to be in school; H’s self-doubt did not rise to the level of being pathological; and the divorce of K’s parents happened five years ago so the timing did not coincide – no causative relationship – likelihood of repetition as the Students failed to learn from their previous mistakes – plain and obvious detriment to the University as the industry of custom essays had been expanding and it would become harder to detect once they start cleansing metadata – planning, deliberation and collaboration as well as the fact that the Students had many opportunities to reconsider were aggravating factors – consideration of actual deterrence was irrelevant – would have imposed a grade assignment of zero for course; an immediate suspension; a recommendation that each Student be expelled; and report to Provost

Students charged under s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The charges related to allegations that the Students each purchased an essay from a commercial provider of essays. The parties submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts, and each Student pleaded guilty to the charges. The Panel found the Student guilty under s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.3(b). Each Student had at least two previous academic offences. C had been convicted of knowingly providing unauthorized assistance for giving her boyfriend a file stored on her computer. H had been convicted for altering the time of her flight ticket to escape from writing her test. K had been convicted of providing unauthorized assistance for letting her friend copy her answer to a question during an exam. Their second offence was committed together: they were convicted of knowingly receiving unauthorized assistance for copying each other’s answers during a term test worth 2% of the course grade. H had also previously purchased an essay, which was submitted in the same month as she collaborated on the test. The majority of the Panel imposed a five-year suspension while the dissent would have imposed a recommendation that the Students be expelled.

Reasons for the Penalty Imposed (Majority):The Panel stated that as much as the University was the victim of places like The Essay Place, so were the three students, who lived far away from home, isolated and coping with financial and medical pressures. Although each Student displayed a pattern of failing to learn from previous mistakes, the previous offences did not indicate a continuum of planned and deliberate dishonesty: C and K’s offences were misguided attempts to be magnanimous, and H’s offence was an act out of desperation to avoid confronting her lack of preparedness. The Panel also stated that, in regards to the 2% quiz, the Students’ realization of the gravity of committing an academic offence was an important consideration in the continuum of their expression of remorse. As for deterrence, the Panel stated that a five-year suspension was a severe lengthy suspension and would arguably have the same deterrent effect as an expulsion. The Panel was of a view that expulsion should be reserved for cases where there is a repetition in kind of offences, and not a series of unrelated offences except when the offences are most egregious. As for considering precedents, the Panel stated that it was to look to them for guidance and not for a formulaic approach because each case had its own collection of facts, circumstances, and mitigating factors. The Panel also stated that a five-year suspension was warranted in this case because of the Students’ clear and unwavering expression of remorse. The Panel imposed a grade assignment of zero in the course; a five-year suspension; a notation on the Students’ transcripts until their graduation; and a report be issued to the Provost.

Dissent (As to Penalty Only): The Dissent stated that extenuating circumstances was only one of the considerations, and expressions of remorse or regret were not enough to mitigate the penalty that followed from this type of academic dishonesty. For extenuating circumstances to play a role, there has to be a connection between the causative symptom and the academic offence; the onus is on the student to show that their extenuating circumstance was so closely connected to the commission of the offence as to suggest that their otherwise good judgment was irretrievably clouded, and that the offence occurred during that dark time, and specifically because of it. The Dissent stated that there was no such connection in this case. For C, the real adversity was that she did not want to be in school, and this was unrelated to a decision to purchase an essay. For H, her self-doubt did not rise to the level of being pathological. For K, her parents’ divorce happened five years ago so the timing did not coincide. As such, the Students did not prove the causative relationship. The Dissent also stated that there was a likelihood of repetition, considering that the Students failed to learn from their previous mistakes. The Dissent considered the detriment to the University to be plain and obvious: the industry of custom essay writing services had been expanding and it would become harder to detect once they start cleansing metadata. The planning, deliberation and collaboration as well as the fact that the Students had many opportunities to reconsider were aggravating factors. As to the argument that a long suspension would have the same deterrent effect as an expulsion, the Dissent stated that the consideration of actual deterrence was irrelevant to the ultimate decision on penalty since there was no evidence as to actual deterrence. The Dissent would have imposed a grade assignment of zero in the course; an immediate suspension; a recommendation that each Student be expelled; and that a report be issued to the Provost.