DATE: May 4, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.H.L.
HEARING DATE: January 19, 2021, via Zoom
Mr. Christopher Wirth, Chair
Professor Margaret MacNeill, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Carlos Khalil, Student Panel Member
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Sonia Patel, Articling Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly forged or in any other way altered or falsified a document or evidence required by the University, or uttered, circulated or made use of such forged, altered or falsified document, namely a midterm exam. In the alternative the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code on the basis that she knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation not otherwise described in the Code in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage.
The Panel received, heard, and examined evidence of the Professor who taught the course for which the midterm was submitted, the Professor’s Teaching Assistant (“TA”), an Academic Integrity Specialist, and the Student. The Professor, the TA, and the Academic Integrity Specialist provided their evidence by way of affidavit, which the Panel accepted in accordance with Rule 61 of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. The TA provided evidence that she was responsible for grading Parts 1-3 of the Exam as well as questions A and B of Part 4, whereas the Professor was responsible for grading question C of Part 4 and tallying up the total marks for Part 4. The TA further provided evidence that she prepared a spreadsheet where she recorded the marks of all the students after she completed grading the midterm exams; once complete, the TA returned the exams and her spreadsheet to the Professor. The Professor provided the same evidence as the TA with respect to the marking responsibilities, the spreadsheet and the return of exams. The Professor provided further evidence that she created an independent spreadsheet which contained a more detailed breakdown of the marks than the TA’s spreadsheet. The independently created spreadsheets contained the same marks for the Student which was directly transcribed from the exam booklets. The Panel received evidence from the Professor that the Student reached out to her via email after the exams were returned and indicated that some parts of the exam may be incorrect. The Professor noted in her evidence that during the meeting with the Student she calculated the marks and determined that the calculation of marks for Part 2 was incorrect and retained the exam to review it further in the event any other errors were made. The Professor further added that once the Student left, she undertook a more careful review of the exam and noted that there were a number of anomalies that were cause for concern. It appeared that some comments made by the TA and/or herself had been erased or whited out and that some marks had been changed. It was the Professor and TA’s evidence that they both graded the exam with an erasable red pen.
The Panel heard evidence from the Student that she met with the Professor four days after the initial meeting and at that time she denied changing the exam and resubmitting it for grading. The Student further attests that someone else must have made the changes to the exam and that any error in the marking was done by someone else. Furthermore, the Student denied that in her original meeting with the Professor that she asked for additional marks; it was her evidence that she only wanted clarification on some comments that she did not understand. It was the Student’s evidence that any white out on the exam occurred during the exam and not after she received the exam back from the Professor. After reviewing the evidence and testimonies, the Panel accepted the evidence of the Professor and TA and rejected the evidence of the Student. The Panel found that it was simply implausible that both the Professor and the TA would make the same mistakes in their marking of the Student’s examination and that both of them would make identical errors entering the marks into their respective spreadsheets. Further, upon review of the exam booklet and the Student’s testimony, the Panel found that the Student was not credible and that it was more likely than not that the Student altered the exam. The Panel found that there was clear and convincing evidence, on a balance of probabilities, that the Student was guilty of one count of knowingly forging or in any other way altering or falsifying a document, namely the exam booklet, and making use of such forged, altered or falsified document, contrary to section B.i.1(a) of the Code. Based on this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.
In determining sanction, the Panel considered the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (“Mr. C. factors”) and found that the Student did not provide the Panel with any character evidence and so they were left with only the evidence that the Student has now been found guilty twice of having cheated on examinations. In considering the likelihood of a repetition of the offence, the Panel noted this is the second offence by the Student and it was committed very shortly after her previous suspension completed. The Panel found that when considering the nature of the offence, it is important to note that cheating attacks the integrity of examinations and the University undertakes significant expense to protect the integrity of its examinations. Therefore, due to the lack of remorse from the Student, the potential for great detriment to the University, the seriousness of the offence and the need to send a clear message that underhanded attempts to undermine academic integrity of examinations will not be tolerated, the Panel found that a strong sanction was required. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a four-year suspension; a five-year notation of the sanction on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for a publication.