Case 1119

DATE: July 21, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. D.K. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: April 27, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. Douglas F. Harrison, Chair
Professor Margaret MacNeill, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Yerin Lee, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Not in Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Hearing Secretary, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances, University of Toronto

The Student was charged under ss. B.i.1(b) and B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that he knowingly used or possessed an unauthorized aid, namely, an iPhone at a final exam and he knowingly represented as his own, ideas or work of another in a final exam short answer. In the alternative, the Student was charged with knowingly using or possessing an unauthorized aid or obtaining unauthorized assistance in connection with the final short answer assignment, contrary to s. B.i.1(b) of the Code. In the further alternative, the Student was charged with knowingly engaging on two occasions, in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage, contrary to s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The Panel waited fifteen minutes to allow for the Student to appear. At this time the University sought an order to proceed with the hearing in the Student’s absence. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served on their ROSI-listed email address with the charges and the notice of electronic hearing. Further, there was evidence before the Panel that Counsel for the University emailed the Student at his ROSI-listed email address to introduce herself, provide a discloser brief as well as request availability for a hearing. 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 as permitted by rule 47 of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”) and the provisions of the Statutory Powers Procedures Act (“SPPA”). Having not heard from the Student, Counsel for the University sent a package to the Student via courier to the mailing address provided in ROSI. This package contained a letter from Counsel, the notice of electronic hearing, a copy of the email containing the Zoom coordinates and the charges. The attempt to deliver the package was unsuccessful and the following day, it was being held at a FedEx facility. Furthermore, Counsel’s office attempted to reach the Student via the telephone number listed in ROSI but the number was not assigned. On review of the evidence and considering ss. 6 and 7(3) of the SPPA and rules 9(c), 13 and 17 of the rules, the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence as they found that reasonable notice had been provided to the Student.

Regarding the charge laid under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code, the Panel received affidavit evidence submitted on behalf of the University. The affidavit evidence outlined that the Student attended a final exam for his Introduction to Organic Chemistry I course where the front page of the final exam booklet outlined that the only aids allowed during the exam were unboxed molecular models. The exam booklet further noted that if any electronic devices, including phones, were found in a student’s pocket, it may be an academic offence. The affidavit evidence also outlined that a little more than an hour after the exam began, one of the invigilators found an iPhone in the Student’s possession, which was turned on. The invigilator confiscated the iPhone. At the conclusion of the exam, the Student acknowledged, in writing, that he was in possession of an unauthorized aid into the exam and admitted that he had committed an academic offence under the Code. The Panel noted that a finding of possession of an unauthorized aid does not require any evidence that the unauthorized aid was used during the final exam. The Panel found that the Student’s admission of possession is sufficient to meet the requirements of the offence, however, the Panel noted that the evidence presented by the University demonstrates that the Student possessed an unauthorized aid in the final exam. Therefore, the Panel found the Student guilty of knowingly using or possessing an unauthorized aid, contrary to s. B.i.1(b) of the Code.

Regarding the charge laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel received and heard evidence of the Professor for which the final exam assignment in question was submitted. The online exam assignment provided for the use of lecture notes and the course textbook but not any online resources. The Professor noted that she discovered a number of the questions and answers to the exam questions posted on Chegg.com (“Chegg”). Due to this discovery, the Professor and the teaching assistants searched the exams for key phrases, spelling errors and incorrect answers from the Chegg sources. Similarities were found between the answers of the Student and the Chegg sources for multiple questions on the Student’s exam. The Professor and her colleague reviewed the similarities between the Student’s answers and those found in the Chegg sources and determined that the number of similarities were suspicious and unlikely coincidental. The Panel found that it was clearly evident that the Student copied answers from the Chegg sources due to the similarities in his answers and those found on the website, the unusual commonalities between the two, and the icon link to the Chegg webpage contained in the Student’s submitted answer. Furthermore, the Professor for the course provided evidence that the final exam assignment was difficult and could have taken the students a full 24 hours to complete the exam; question 2 alone was designed to take approximately 2 hours to complete yet the Student completed the entire exam in about three and a half hours. Based on the totality of the evidence the Panel was satisfied that the Student knowingly made use of the Chegg sources to complete the final exam assignment and therefore is guilty of knowingly representing as his own, ideas and work of another in the final exam, contrary to s. B.i.1(d) of the Code.

Due to the foregoing findings, the University withdrew the alternative charges.

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the submissions of the University and the guidance for sanction in the Code. The Panel also considered the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (“Mr. C. factors”). The Panel noted that due to the abbreviated time between the two offences in question (three weeks), not only is there a great likelihood of repetition, but there is also evidence of actual repetition. With respect to the nature of the offence, the detriment to the University and the need for deterrence, the Panel noted that plagiarism is an extremely serious offence that harms the institution and the academic process and can be seen as an attempt to defraud the University. The Panel further noted that the possession of an unauthorized aid is a serious matter as it can bring harm to the academic process and thus the penalty must act as a general deterrent against this behaviour. The Student admitted to possessing the iPhone during the exam and given the ease with which one can hide an iPhone and potentially make improper use of it in an exam, the sanction must be severe enough to deter others from considering the possession of an unauthorized aid. The Panel noted that the offence of plagiarism was not one that could be attributed to inadvertence or to a choice made in the heat of the moment, but was an offence that involves planning, deliberation, and conscious execution, and that is among the most serious forms of academic misconduct. Therefore, the sanction must create a strong deterrent against its commission by others. Taking into consideration the evidence, the Student’s actions, the authorities and the Mr. C factors, the Panel determined that a more severe sanction should be imposed. The Panel imposed the following sanction: a grade of zero in both courses; a two-and-a-half-year suspension; a notation on the transcript until graduation; and a report to the Provost for a publication.