Report 414

DATE: June 28, 2021

PARTIES: M.V. (the “Student”) v. Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering

HEARING DATE: April 27, 2021, via Zoom

Chair:
Ms. Vanessa Laufer

Appearances:
For the Student Appellant:
Ms. Cailyn Prins, Representative for the Student, Downtown Legal Services
The Student

For the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering:
Professor Thomas Coyle, Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering

The Student appealed a decision of the Appeals Board of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering to uphold the denial of the Student’s petition requesting reinstatement in the Engineering Science program. The Student is seeking that the Academic Appeal Committee (“Committee”) set aside the decision of the Appeals Board and reinstate her into the Engineering Science program with the opportunity to rewrite three exams with accommodation. Alternatively, the Student is seeking permission to retake three courses with accommodation; and, if successful in receiving the required average, the Student seeks permission to advance into the second year of the Engineering Science program (“Program”).

In 2019, the Student was terminated from the Program for failing to meet the required minimum average. The Student petitioned to be reinstated into the Program, but this was denied. The Student appealed this denial on the basis that her poor performance was due to undiagnosed performance and social anxiety which she would be seeking accommodation for from Accessibility Services. The appeal decision indicated “no action due to insufficient reasoning”. The Student appealed to the Committee on medical and procedural grounds.

The Student submitted that her academic performance in the 2018-2019 academic year was negatively impacted by her undiagnosed anxiety and asked the Committee to consider these medical grounds in deciding her appeal. The Student stated that the termination from the Program was unreasonable because it was as a result of her poor performance due to her medical condition. There was evidence before the Committee that early in 2020 the Student contacted Accessibility Services about being registered and seeking appropriate accommodation due to her medical condition. There was also evidence before the Committee that as of the date of the hearing, the Student still had not completed the registration process with Accessibility Services even though she was advised that additional forms were required in order to complete her registration. Although sympathetic to the Student’s submissions on her mental health, the Committee noted that there was no evidence before it that would indicate that the Student was suffering from a mental health condition that led to her poor performance at the time she was enrolled in the Program. Therefore, the Committee noted that it was reasonable for the Faculty to deny the Student’s appeal on medical grounds The Committee further noted that the University has a duty to accommodate under the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, the Committee found that the Student was advised on multiple occasions regarding the appropriate process with Accessibility Services and yet she still did not proceed with the process. Therefore, the Committee could not grant the remedy of accommodation to the Student.

The Student also appealed on procedural grounds. The Student argued that the reasons outlined in the decision of the Appeal Board were insufficient and she did not receive the official decision letter until after she filed her appeal, thus denying her the opportunity to fully know the case against her. Although the Committee acknowledges that the reasons are brief, the information in the official letter was the same as that provided by email to the Student, which she had when she filed her Notice of Appeal. Further, and more significantly, the Student proceeded to the Committee where her case was heard. The Student had every opportunity to fully present her case to the Committee, and she did so with legal representation. Therefore, the Committee noted that relief on this ground is not warranted.

The Student submitted that her assignments and lab assessments demonstrated her basic understanding of the course material, that her performance in Mechanical Engineering had sufficiently prepared her for success in the second year of the Program, and that she has taken adequate substitute courses in Mechanical Engineering for the courses in the Program. The Faculty submitted that courses in Mechanical Engineering do not sufficiently prepare the Student to be successful in second year of the Program nor are they adequate substitutes any courses in the Program. Furthermore, the Faculty indicated that the Student had not met the thresholds for promotion in the Program as per the Promotion Regulations in the Faculty Calendar. The Faculty further advised that it is not their practice to allow students to substitute courses with similar content in another program. The Committee found the information and arguments of the Faculty to be persuasive. The Committee noted that it should defer to the expertise of the Faculty in determining what is required to prepare a student for success in its programs. The Committee found that it is unreasonable to believe that the Student is better suited to assess her understanding of course material and better able to judge the appropriateness of course equivalency than the Faculty. The Committee noted that it should only interfere with the decision if that decision was unreasonable. Based on the Faculty’s submission, evidence and the lack of clear, convincing or cogent evidence from the Student, the Committee found that the Faculty’s application of their policy was fair and reasonable. Appeal dismissed.

The Committee recommended that the Appeals Board of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering includes enough information in its reasons so students can make an informed decision regarding whether to appeal to the Academic Appeals Committee.