Report 412

DATE: January 8, 2021

PARTIES: I.A. (the “Student”) v. The School of Graduate Studies ("SGS")

HEARING DATE: November 13, 2020, via Zoom

Senior Chair:
Professor Hamish Stewart

For the Student Appellant:
Ms. I.A. (the “Student”)

For the School of Graduate Studies
Mr. Robert Centa, Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Jodi Martin, Co-Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

The Student was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences. She was required to pass a Qualifying Examination (“QE”) to achieve Ph.D. candidacy. On her initial attempt in January 2018, the Student failed the QE. She retook it in September 2018 and failed again. The Student appealed the failure to the Division’s Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee (“GDAAC”). The GDAAC dismissed her appeal. The Student then appealed to the Graduate Academic Appeals Board (“GAAB”) where the GAAB also dismissed her appeal. The Student appealed to the Academic Appeals Committee (“Committee”).

The question before the Committee was whether the QE was administered fairly. At the hearing, the Committee determined, through the assistance of Counsel for SGS and the Student, three specific grounds of appeal that were relevant to the matter. The three grounds were as follows: one, the Student was inadequately supervised leading up to the retake of her QE; second, the examining committee applied the wrong Guidelines to the Student’s QE; and third, the result might have been different if the absent member of the examining committee had participated in the later stages of her assessment.

The Student submitted that she was inadequately supervised because she met only once with her supervisory committee, rather than at least twice as recommended by the 2017 Guidelines. The Committee rejected this submission because the 2017 Guidelines indicate that once an outline for the QE paper is approved, the supervisory committee is not allowed to provide students with feedback or review drafts. Therefore, once the Student’s outline was approved, it would have been inappropriate for the Student or the committee to arrange to meet to discuss the QE paper. Further, the Student asked the Committee to infer that the examining committee applied the incorrect Guidelines when assessing her QE because of the particular language used in the evaluation reflects the 2018 Guidelines and not the 2017 Guidelines. There was no direct evidence of this in the record other than the Student’s oral statements. The Committee found that both guidelines reflect the fundamental task of the student to engage critically with the relevant literature in order to identify a specific research question which would make it difficult for the Committee to accept an inference that the examining committee applied the incorrect guidelines. Furthermore, based on the findings of the examining committee of the QE paper, the Committee determined that the flaws in the Student’s paper would have been considered serious flaws in either sets of guidelines. The Student further submitted that the absence of one member of the examining committee in the later stages of her assessment might have changed the outcome of the examination because this particular member’s research interests closely matched the topic of the QE paper. The Committee found that the only way the non-participating member would have been able to change the result of the QE paper was if the member would have been impressed by the Student’s written responses that the member would have revised her initial assessment of the QE paper and convinced at least one other member to change their assessment as well. The Committee was not persuaded that the absence of the one member from the later stages of the Student’s assessment would have made a difference since all seven members of the large examining committee were of the view that the QE paper was a failure.

The Committee found that there is no merit to the Student’s grounds of appeal. Appeal dismissed.