Report #369

DATE: November 7, 2013
PARTIES: Ms. S.M. (the Student) v. the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering

Hearing Date(s): October 31, 2013
Committee Members:
Professor Andrew Green (Chair)
Professor Hugh Gunz
Mr. Rastko Cvekic
Secretaries:
Mr. Chris Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
Ms. Sinead Cutt, Administrative Assistant, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
In Attendance:
For the Student Appellant:
Ms. S.M., the Appellant (“the Student”)
Selwyn Pieters, Counsel for the Student
Appearances:
For the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering:
Professor Thomas Coyle, Chair of the Examinations Committee
Professor Peter Herman, Chair of the Examinations Committee
Ms. Barbara McCann, Faculty Registrar
Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering – re-instatement to program – Student was refused further registration due to an average below the Faculty’s requirements – Student argued that her heavy workload and anxiety/stress issues warranted a remedy – Committee noted the high bar set to obtain relief in order to maintain the integrity of the Faculty – Committee took into account evidence of the Student’s positive mental health progression – Committee took into account the fact that the Faculty had previously provided relief to the Student based on the same events at issue in this appeal – Faculty staff names can be redacted when the nature of the case is sensitive and the staff are directly involved – appeal allowed
Request to re-register after not meeting the Faculty’s required sessional average. The Student’s average fell below the required average of 60% three times. The first time the Student was put on probationary status (“PRO2”). The second time, the 60% rule was waived given the fact that the Student’s average was very close to the cut off and that the timing of her exam (which she had deferred for medical/psychological reasons) that contributed to the low average was during a week in which midterms were held and school was ongoing. The next semester the Student’s average again fell below 60% and the Faculty refused further registration. The Student petitioned to be placed on PRO2 status again, citing her heavy workload (which she had been advised against taking) and anxiety/stress issues. The Faculty Committee denied the Student’s petition because of its insufficient reasons to warrant a remedy.
The Student then appealed the Faculty’s decision to the Academic Appeals Board, providing a further description of the illness of her family member and her own struggles with anxiety and stress. The AAB dismissed the Student’s appeal, finding that no rule, regulation, policy or principle was applied to the Student unfairly.
The Student then appealed to the Academic Appeals Committee, asking that the 60% rule be waived and that she be reinstated in the program. The Committee allowed the appeal. It emphasized that the Faculty’s progressive probationary program provides students with the opportunity to recover from a poor academic performance, and noted that a high bar is set to obtain such relief in order to maintain the integrity and standards of the Faculty. The Committee noted that the Student had admittedly taken on a full course load despite some advice otherwise, and had provided evidence of anxiety issues but had not sought accommodation through Accessibility Services. The Committee took into account the fact that the Faculty had provided relief from the 60% rule for the Student in the previous semester, noting that the events that made up the basis for relief then were the same events that were the basis for this appeal (the scheduling of the deferred exam during the academic year). The Committee also took into account evidence of the Student’ severe anxiety issues and evidence from the Student’s psychologist that she was progressing well, and the Student’s willingness and financial ability to take a lighter course load. The Committee therefore found that it would have been reasonable for the AAB to grant relief from the 60% rule. Appeal allowed.
The Committee recommended that the Faculty consider whether there are further steps it could take to aid students in the context of mental health concerns, especially relating to placing a statement on each examination relating to what to do in the event of illness or distress during the exam.
The Committee granted the Faculty’s motion to redact the names of Faculty staff who acted on behalf of the Faculty in the case, noting that though there was no direct allegation against a particular individual in this appeal, the sensitive nature of the appeal and the references to advice provided by staff to the Student warranted redaction (see Report #367 for an earlier decision regarding redacting the names of Faculty staff).