case 1107

DATE: March 19, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. D.B.

HEARING DATE: January 11, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. Simon Clements, Chair
Dr. Chris Koenig-Woodyard, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Alena Zelinka, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Sonia Patel, Articling Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

In Attendance:
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Not in Attendance: The Student

The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that he knowingly represented an idea or expression of an idea or work of another as his own in an assignment to obtain an academic credit. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage.    

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students provides that students enrolled at the University are responsible for maintaining a current and valid postal address and email account on ROSI. Students are expected to monitor and retrieve all mail, including emails, on a frequent and consistent basis. Rule 9 (c) of the Rules provides that the Notice of Hearing can be served via email to the student’s email address in ROSI. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at his ROSI-listed email address with the charges and Notice of Electronic Hearing. The Panel noted that there was evidence that the Student’s email account had been accessed after service of the charges and the Notice of Electronic Hearing, however, there was no evidence that the Student had read the communication. The Student was subsequently provided an opportunity to provide submissions in relation to the request of the University for the hearing to proceed electronically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Student did not respond to this request and the hearing was ordered to proceed electronically. Further, Counsel for the University attempted to reach the student via telephone on the morning of the hearing, however, the telephone number listed in ROSI was not in service. Relying on rules 9 and 17 of the Rules and ss. 6 and 7 of the SPPA, the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed to be heard on its merits in the Student’s absence as they found that reasonable notice of the charges and hearing had been provided to the Student.

The Panel noted that pursuant to Rule 61 of the Rules, affidavits may be received by the Tribunal as good evidence and that the affidavit evidence was served in accordance with Rule 72(b). Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel received and examined the affidavit evidence of the Professor who taught the course for which the assignment in question was submitted. The Professor indicated in her evidence that the course syllabus contained a warning about plagiarism. The Professor further provided evidence that she used the “Turnitin” software to accept assignments for the course. The software flags any areas of potential plagiarism in the submitted written work. The “Turnitin” software generated a report that indicated a 22% similarity index. It was the Professor’s evidence that upon receiving the report she reviewed the assignment and discovered that the Student had copied full sentences verbatim from outside sources without placing quotation marks on those sentences, as required. After reviewing the assignment and the sources, the Professor concluded that the Student included verbatim, and nearly verbatim, text in his assignment without appropriate attribution. After reviewing the Professor’s evidence and a copy of the Student’s assignment, the Panel found that the Student was guilty of one count of plagiarism contrary to section B.i.1(d) of the Code. Given the Panel’s finding, the University withdrew the alternate charge under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

In determining sanction, the Panel was asked by the University to consider the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C., namely, the Student’s character, likelihood of repetition of the offence, the nature of the offence, any extenuating circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence, the detriment to the University and the need to deter others from committing a similar offence. In addition to these, the University asked the Panel to consider the need for some measure of uniformity in the sentencing processes so that like cases are treated alike. Without the Student’s participation, the Panel found no evidence of mitigating or extenuating circumstances, good character, remorse or insight that would prevent the Panel from imposing a serious penalty. Having regard to all the circumstances of the offence, and the need to achieve a degree of consistency in imposing sanctions, the Panel accepted the University’s recommendation on sanction. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension; a three-year a notation of the sanction on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for a publication  with the Student’s name withheld.