Report #404

DATE: June 20, 2019
PARTIES: M.U-S. (the “Student”) v. Toronto School of Theology

HEARING DATE: June 6, 2019

Committee Members:

Professor Stephen Waddams, Chair
Professor Mohan Matthen, Faculty Governor
Mr. Price Amobi Maka, Student Governor

Appearances:
For the Student Appellant:
Mr. Alex Severance, Law Student, Downtown Legal Services

For the Toronto School of Theology
Mr. Robert A. Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Toronto School of Theology (TST) – appeal from TST decision terminating Student’s candidacy for degree of Doctor of Theology – Notice of Appeal to Academic Appeals Committee filed late – exceptional circumstances apply because TST’s own appeal committee erred in refusing jurisdiction to hear Student’s appeal – underlying purpose of exception is to prevent general rule from causing inequity – adequate notice of right to appeal not given to Student – seeking legal advice does not displace exceptional circumstances and cannot of itself create a strict new time period - appeal allowed – matter remitted to Graduate Studies Council Academic Appeals Committee

The Student appealed from a decision of the Toronto School of Theology (TST) terminating her candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Theology.

TST communicated its decision to terminate the Student’s candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Theology by letter dated September 7, 2016. Thereafter, the Student immediately indicated a wish to appeal the decision and filed an appeal to the Graduate Studies Council Academic Appeals Committee (GSCAAC) within the prescribed time limit. The Student was then erroneously informed by letter from the Registrar dated December 15, 2016 that she was not eligible to appeal to the GSCAAC.

The Student appealed to the Academic Appeals Committee (AAC) from the decision of TST terminating her candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Theology by filing a Notice of Appeal on February 7, 2019. While TST conceded that its own appeal committee erred in refusing jurisdiction to hear the Student’s appeal, TST argued that the Student’s notice of appeal to the AAC was filed out of time.

Both parties agreed that the only issue before the AAC was the time issue. Provision 3.1.6 of the AAC’s terms of reference stipulates that an appeal to the AAC shall, except in exceptional circumstances, be commenced by filing a notice of appeal no later than 5 pm on the ninetieth day after the date of the decision from which the appeal is being taken. Accordingly, the AAC identified the question before it as whether the words “except in exceptional circumstances” apply in this case.

The AAC considered the four-part test used in previous AAC decisions and judicial statements used in similar contexts (being: a continuing intention to appeal; a reasonable excuse for delay; an arguable case; and the absence of prejudice to the other side). While the AAC found that these factors are relevant in many cases, it concluded that they are not strict pre-requisites in all circumstances. The AAC determined that the underlying purpose of the exception must be borne in mind, which is to prevent the strict general rule from causing an inequity. In this case, the TST erroneously led the Student to believe that there was and would be no decision of the TST appeals committee and so no decision from which she could appeal. While the policy of the University on Academic Appeals Within Divisions states that any student whose appeal has been denied must be advised of the right to appeal to the AAC, the Registrar’s letter to the Student in this case did not include any indication of a right to appeal. The AAC opined that it would be preferable in general for students to be informed individually of their right of appeal. The AAC concluded that in the exceptional circumstances of this case, where the Student was mistakenly advised that she was ineligible to appeal, adequate notice was not given to the Student of her right to appeal. The statement in the Th.D. and Ph.D. Handbook relied on by TST (stating that all Th.D. students have the right to appeal the final result of a TST appeals process to the AAC) was confusing in the particular circumstances of this case, as the Registrar’s letter did not give the appearance of being itself a decision of the TST appeals committee. The AAC also stated that in its opinion, the seeking of legal advice by the Student did not displace the exceptional circumstances of this case and could not be said, of itself, to create a new strict time period.

The AAC allowed the appeal and remitted the matter to the GSCAAC.