Case #1035

DATE: October 30, 2019

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.S.

HEARING DATE: September 9, 2019

Panel Members:
Mr. Bernard Fishbein, Chair
Professor Lynne Howarth, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Rory Smith, Student Panel Member

Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Brian Hauff, Representative for the Student

In Attendance:
Ms. Jennifer Dent, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged with plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that she knowingly represented the work of another as her own without proper acknowledgement in an assignment submitted for academic credit.

The parties submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF) in which the Student admitted that she hired a third party to write an assignment for her which she submitted for academic credit as if it was her own work. The Student admitted that while she participated somewhat in the work on the assignment, she received such significant help that she was surprised by the quality of the final product and was not familiar with all of the words and ideas used in it. Based on the representations of both the University and the Student, and the ASF, the Tribunal held that the violation of s. B.i.1(d) of the Code had been made out.

After presenting the Panel with the ASF and accompanying Joint Book of Documents on Penalty, counsel for the Student wished to provide the Tribunal with a number of additional documents. Although this was an unusual method of procedure, the University objected to only one of the documents (a letter from the Student to her counsel elaborating on what was in the ASF). The parties agreed that the Student would be affirmed and cross-examined on the contents of that document. The Panel noted that most of the cross-examination did not add significantly to what was already in the ASF.

The Panel noted that the only issue really in dispute was the length of the suspension sought by the University; the University sought only a five year suspension, notwithstanding that this was the Student’s second offence of academic misconduct and that the violation involved a commercial transaction. The University was prepared to do so because the Student had entered into a remedial undertaking to complete six courses within eight months of her return to the University and the fulfilment of the undertaking would be a requirement before she could graduate. The University relied upon a number of authorities, in particular the decision of the Discipline Appeals Board (DAB) in S.C. et. al. In that case, the DAB noted that purchasing academic work for a fee and then submitting that work with a view to securing academic credit has always been considered to be among the most egregious offences a student can commit in the University environment. The DAB stated that expulsion should be considered a likely sanction in these cases. The Panel recognized that each case must be assessed on its own facts, but that the guidance of the DAB should not lightly be disregarded.

The Panel stated that the ordinary sanction for plagiarism should be expulsion unless moderated by convincing and persuasive mitigating factors, in which case a five year suspension could be substituted. While the Panel noted that there may be unique circumstances which justify departure from this general statement, this case was not one of them. The Panel stated that in seeking only a five year suspension, the University had overlooked what would clearly otherwise be exacerbating circumstances: this was not the Student’s first incident of academic misconduct, and although the Student did ultimately cooperate and admit wrongdoing, the Student was not initially prepared to “own up” to her misconduct. Because the University was prepared to overlook the exacerbating factors, the Panel was not prepared to impose a sanction greater than the University was seeking. The Panel noted that the value of all students’ work cannot be diminished by tolerating or not appropriately punishing those that seek to obtain credit by work other than their own work. Counsel for the Student offered no jurisprudence to support a more lenient treatment of this academic misconduct. Although it noted that it had the authority to do so, the Panel stated that it was not prepared to impose a sanction greater than that sought by the University in the circumstances.

The Tribunal imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero; a five year suspension from the University from the date of the order, ending August 31, 2024; and a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record and transcript from the date of the order for six years. The Tribunal also ordered that the case be reported to the Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and the sanctions imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.