Report 415

DATE: July 20, 2021

PARTIES: Ms. E.L. (the “Student”) v. School of Graduate Studies

HEARING DATE: June 17, 2021, via Zoom

Senior Chair:
Professor Hamish Stewart

For the Student Appellant:
Ms. E.L. (the “Student”)

For the School of Graduate Studies:
Ms. Denise Cooney, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Professor Martin Pickave, School of Graduate Studies

The Student appealed a decision of the GAAB which dismissed her appeal from a decision of the Chair of the Department of Philosophy (“Department Chair”), declining to direct a reassessment of the Student’s major research paper in PHL2117. The Student’s principal remedy sought is an order from the Committee to the Department of Philosophy (“Department”) to have her paper reassessed by two specific members of the Department. The Student also seeks the following additional remedies: (1) that the GDAAC disclose the number of rounds of voting that had occurred in order to reach the decision in her appeal; (2) that the Department Chair name or identify tenure track member(s) in the Department who are of Chinese ancestry during or after 2019; (3) that the Committee issue an order directing a specific classmate to disclose a copy of their major paper for comparison; (4) that the Committee summonses a witness; and (5) that matters related to systemic bias should fall within the jurisdiction of the University academic appeal bodies.

The Chair of the Committee (“Chair”) reviewed and decided whether the Committee had jurisdiction to grant any of the additional remedies sought by the Student. With regard to additional remedies one and two, the Chair noted that any questions regarding the “rounds of voting” or the number of members of the Department that are of Chinese ancestry is irrelevant to the appeal. Regarding the third additional remedy, the Chair noted that the GAAB and the Committee lack jurisdiction to seek disclosure of another student’s work and even if there was such jurisdiction, the Student did not provide any reasonable grounds to believe that reading the other student’s paper would have assisted the Committee in deciding the appeal; the Committee is not in a position to compare the quality of work between two students. Regarding the fourth additional remedy, the Committee accepts the Student’s description of the class discussion and therefore, the summons would not be necessary for the purpose of this appeal and finally, the Chair noted that the GAAB and the Committee do not and can not carry out investigations.

The Student’s request for a reassessment of her paper rested on three principal submissions: (1) her major paper was not properly assessed because of the Professor’s lack of expertise in the relevant field of study; (2) the Professor was biased against her Chinese ancestry; and (3) the other student whose work, in the opinion of the Student, was comparable in quality received an A and she did not. With respect to the first ground of appeal, the Committee noted that it does not reassess academic work on its merits and it sees no reason to doubt the judgement of eight members of the Department who read the paper and were all of the view that it deserved, at most, a mark of B. The Committee further noted that regardless of whether or not the Professor’s knowledge was inferior to the Student’s, it did not negate the Student’s responsibility to provide a clear explanation of the relevant concepts and relate them to the subject matter, something the Student did not do.

Regarding the second ground of appeal, the Student’s evidence of bias consisted of her recount of a class meeting and the content of some tweets attributed to the Professor regarding a shadow course. The Committee did not draw any inferences of bias from the Student’s description of the class meeting. The Committee found that it shows, at most, an awkward moment in class. The tweets that the Student attributed to the Professor were not authenticated, however, neither the Department nor SGS raised any issues pertaining to their authenticity. Therefore, the Committee proceeded on the basis that they were authored by the Professor. The Committee noted that the tweets did not indicate any bias towards the Student and furthermore, the Committee could not see how the Professor’s concerns of a shadow course could influence his assessment of the Student’s major paper. Regarding the third ground of appeal, the Committee has no evidentiary basis for comparing the Student’s work with the work of another student.

The Committee noted that the procedures followed by the Professor, the Department Chair, the GDAAC, and the GAAB were appropriate. Appeal dismissed.