Report #342

DATE: August 3, 2010
PARTIES: M.Z. (the Student) v. UTSC


Hearing Date(s): June 23, 2010

Committee Members:
Kate Hilton, Chair
Professor William Gough
Professor Faye Mishna
Sarita Verma
Dr. Olivier Sorin

Appearances:

For the Student Appellant:

M.Z. (the Student)
Daniel Goldbloom, DLS for the Student

For the University of Toronto, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering:
Professor Tom Coyle
Adam Fox

University of Toronto, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering – late withdrawal without academic penalty – aegrotat standing – medical grounds – mental health problems – anxiety – depression – examination period – Examination Committee – 60% rule – Academic Appeals Board – academic history – chronic illness – foreseeability of illness – aegrotat standing in cases of chronic illness – aegrotat standing granted previously – Faculty policy – policy applied incorrectly – unfair and arbitrary application of policy – impact of the Student’s illness – procedural fairness – reasonable expectation to be provided with reasons for decision – appearance of unfairness – appeal allowed

Appeal of a decision of the Academic Appeals Board to deny the Student his petition for late withdrawal without academic penalty for a course and to deny his request for aegrotat standing in four courses. The Student’s petition to the Examinations Committee seeking late withdrawal without academic penalty and aegrotat standing was denied. The Examinations Committee instead waived the 60% rule, a rule that stated students may only advance to the next year of their program if they had achieved an annual average of 60% or higher. No additional reasons were given. The Student’s appeal to the Academic Appeals Board was further denied. The appeal to the Academic Appeals Committee related to the issue of whether or not the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering applied its policy on aegrotat standing appropriately in light of the Student’s medical issues. The Committee reviewed the Student’s academic and medical history, including symptoms from the Student’s documented diagnoses of anxiety and depression and the side effects the Student experienced from medication. The Committee further reviewed previous instances of the Student receiving aegrotat standing in courses based on medical grounds. The Committee then considered the University of Toronto policy on Grading Practices and aegrotat standing. The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering submitted that aegrotat is an extraordinary remedy used appropriately in situations where a student experiences a radical change in academic performance as a result of an unforeseen event. The Faculty did not view chronic illnesses as meriting the remedy of aegrotat standing as, in the Faculty’s view, the symptoms of chronic illness are foreseeable and can be managed with planning and effort. The Faculty had previously granted aegrotat standing in a previous term in recognition of the fact the Student’s symptoms intensified unexpectedly during the previous period. The Faculty expressed the concern that granting aegortat standing would support the Student’s belief that the remedy of aegrotat would be always available. The Committee found the Faculty applied the policy on aegrotat incorrectly. The Committee accepted the Faculty’s position that aegrotat is intended to address consequences of unexpected events. The Committee did not, though, accept that the Faculty’s interpretation that aegrotat should be available in cases of acute but not chronic illness. The Committee recommended that the Faculty’s practices with respect to granting aegrotat standing should be incorporated into the Faculty’s policy and printed in the Academic Regulations so it would be available to all students. The Committee reviewed the case and found the Student’s medical issues occurred over a number of months and affected the Student’s performance for an entire academic year. The Committee found the Faculty’s denial unfair and arbitrary. The Committee took into account the Student’s updated transcript, which was unavailable at the time of the Academic Appeals Board’s decision. This transcript, in the Committee’s view, demonstrated the impact of the Student’s illness. The Committee further reviewed the Student’s argument that he had been denied procedural fairness by the Academic Appeal Board’s failure to give reasons for their decision. The Committee found it unnecessary to decide on this issue, but noted the complete absence of reasons in both the Examinations Committee’s and Academic Appeals Board’s decisions. The Committee further noted that students have a reasonable expectation to be provided with reasons for decisions and that a failure to provide reasons could taint decisions with the appearance of unfairness. The Committee found it appropriate to grant the Student his request for late withdrawal without academic penalty and aegrotat standing for the requested courses. Appeal allowed.