DATE: July 27, 2020
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. S.K. (“the Student”)
HEARING DATES: May 1, 2020, via Zoom
Ms. Johanna Braden, Chair
Professor Kimberley Widger, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Karen Chen, Student Panel Member
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Not in Attendance:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Administrative Clerk and Hearing Secretary, Office of the Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances, University of Toronto
The University laid two sets of charges against the Student. First, she was charged with two counts under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (“Code”) on the basis that she knowingly represented as her own an idea or expression of an idea, and/or the work of another in two essays submitted in partial completion of the requirements for a course. Second, she was charged with one count under s. B.i.1(d) with respect to an essay she submitted in partial completion of the requirements for another course. Alternatively, she was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code for these offences.
An in-person hearing was initially scheduled, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hearing was rescheduled and proceeded electronically via Zoom. Neither the Student nor a representative on her behalf logged onto the Zoom link. The University provided evidence regarding its attempts to serve the Student with the hearing materials and notice of hearing by email. Relying on Rules 9, 16 and 17 of the Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”), ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”) and the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students, the University requested that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence. According to the Panel, there was evidence the Student had received actual notice of the charges, but there was no evidence she had received actual notice of the hearing. However, it noted that the Rules do not require actual notice and stated that the University can serve the Student but cannot make the Student actually read what is served. The hearing proceeded in the Student’s absence.
Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel commented that the requirement that the Student act knowingly is made out if the Student ought reasonably to have known that she represented as her own an idea or expression of an idea and/or the work of another. The Panel found that it was more likely than not that the Student was guilty. Among other things, it noted the following: (1) that the plagiarism extended beyond the simple repetition of basic facts; (2) that the Student held out as her own the words, phrases and ideas of others without any attribution of any source material; and (3) that if she did not know that this was an academic offence, she reasonably ought to have known. Given the Panel’s finding, the University withdrew the charges under s. B.i.3(b).
In determining the sanction, the Panel held that the Student seemed unable or unwilling to learn from her mistakes. It noted the Student’s failure to respond to her professor’s multiple attempts to meet and discuss the shortcomings of her work, observed that each episode of plagiarism was worse than the previous one, and found nothing in the record to suggest that the Student was remorseful or repentant. According to the Panel, the plagiarism ranged from relatively mild acts of copying to more blatant thefts of ideas and could not be described as accidental or inadvertent. Without the Student’s participation, it found no evidence of extenuating circumstances. It held that students must understand the importance of citing, paraphrasing and attributing others’ work properly. Furthermore, while recognizing that it is not bound by previous cases of the Tribunal and that each case must be decided on its own facts, the Panel highlighted the principle that like cases should be treated alike so that all parties can come to hearings with a reasonable expectation of what kind of penalty they can expect based upon the findings. It reviewed four cases involving plagiarism, including University of Toronto and B.S. (Case No. 697, December 17, 2013). It held that, as a general rule, a two-year suspension is the threshold sentence for an act of deliberate dishonesty such as plagiarism. The Panel found that the Student had plagiarized three times, which required a harsher suspension. The Tribunal imposed the following sanctions: grade assignment of zero for both courses; suspension commencing the day the Tribunal made its Order and ending on December 31, 2022; notation on the Student’s academic record and transcript from the date the Tribunal made its Order and ending on December 31, 2023, with the Student’s name withheld.