Case 1126

DATE: September 13, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. K.Z. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: June 15, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. Dean F. Embry, Chair
Professor Mike Evans, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Syeda Hasan, Student Panel Member

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

Not in Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Nadia Bruno, Special Projects Officer, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged with two counts of knowingly representing the ideas of another, or the expressions of the ideas of another, as her own work in a test and a final exam, contrary to s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”). In the alternative, the Student was charged with two counts of knowingly obtaining unauthorized assistance in connection with a test and a final exam, contrary to s. B.i.1(b) of the Code. In the further alternative, the Student was charged with two counts of knowingly engaging in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage in connection with a test and a final exam, under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.      

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served with the charges and the Notice of Electronic Hearing via email to her ROSI-listed email address. The University filed evidence demonstrating attempts to contact the Student via email which included invitations for discussions, efforts to arrange scheduling of the hearing, disclosure of materials, and reminders of the hearing. The Student was subsequently provided an opportunity to provide submissions in relation to the request of the Assistant Discipline Counsel 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. The charges, notice, and email correspondence to the Student went unanswered.  Given the foregoing, the Panel found that the Student was provided with reasonable notice and proper service as outlined in rules 9 and 14 of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure and as such, the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence.    

Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel received affidavit evidence of the professor who taught the course for which the test and the final exam in question were submitted. The professor’s evidence outlined that after the exams were submitted the instructors and the teaching assistants in the course found a number of questions and answers for both the test and the final exam on Chegg.com (“Chegg”). It was later discovered that someone had posted questions and answers from the test and the final exam on Chegg during the 24 hour-period of both examinations. An examination of the answers provided by the Student and those posted on Chegg revealed striking similarities. For example, the manner in which the problems were solved and the steps taken in those solutions were the same and unusual. Further, both set of answers contained missing steps. The Panel agreed that the similarities between the answers of the Student and those found on Chegg showed, on a balance of probabilities, that the Student somehow came into possession of the answers posted on Chegg and copied them into the answers she ultimately submitted. The Panel noted that the evidence did not show that the Student was the one who posted the questions on Chegg or that she received the answers from Chegg; all that could be said was that the Student directly or indirectly came into possession of those answers and improperly relied on them. Given all the evidence, the Panel found the Student guilty of two counts of knowingly representing an idea or expression of an idea of work of another as her own, contrary to s. B.i.1(d) of the Code.   

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the guidance outlined in the Provost’s Guidance on Sanctions in Appendix “C” of the Code. Section B.8(b) provides that at the Tribunal level, “absent exceptional circumstances, the Provost will request that the Tribunal suspend a student for two years for any offence involving academic dishonesty, where a student had not committed any prior offences.” The University drew the attention of the Panel to a number of factors that they say call for a higher sanction than that contemplated in the Code. First, the University noted that the Student failed to participate in the process which goes to the character of the Student and that there is no evidence of remorse, mitigating circumstances or acknowledgement from the Student that this behaviour will not be repeated. Second, the University noted that there was a financial or commercial aspect to these offences that elevates their seriousness. Finally, the University noted that the behaviour was repeated as it was in relation to two separate tests. The Panel disagreed with the University that the Student’s non-participation can be used as an aggravating factor. The Panel noted that while a failure to participate robs the Student of the ability to present evidence of remorse or mitigating factors that may reduce a sanction, the non-presentation of that evidence does not itself represent an aggravating factor that can be used to increase sanction. Similarly, although a student’s assurance that the behaviour will not be repeated can act as a mitigating factor, the Panel noted that there is no onus on the Student to provide such assurances such that an absence is an aggravating factor. Based on the evidence outlined at the hearing, the Panel determined that since it was unable to conclude whether the Student was a subscriber to Chegg or that she was aware that the answers she used were retrieved from that site, the commercial nature of the site could not be used an as aggravating factor. Regarding the repetition of the behaviour in question the Panel noted that although teaching staff reached out to the Student prior to the second offence, there is no evidence that the Student reviewed that correspondence. Therefore, the University had not proven that the Student repeated the behaviour after being notified that it was unacceptable. The Panel further noted that both offences took place in the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns swept Ontario and thus, it was reasonable to assume that the global upheaval during those weeks had a negative effect on the Student. The Panel did not impose the sanction requested on behalf of the University. However, given the serious nature of the offence and absence of any mitigating factors, the Panel found that a substantial sanction was an appropriate one. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension; a three-year notation on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for a publication.