Case 1201

DATE: September 21, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. S.O. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: July 8, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. R.S.M. Woods, Chair
Professor Gaberiele D'Eleuterio, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Alex Erikson, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Kimberly Dias, Representative for the Student, Downtown Legal Services

In Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Carmelle Salomon-Labbé, Associate Director, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

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 she knowingly used or possessed an unauthorized aid, or aids, or obtained unauthorized assistance in a final exam and that she knowingly represented as her own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in a question on a test. 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 in connection with a test.

The Student attended the hearing and was represented by counsel. The Student and the University submitted an Agreed Statement of Fact (“ASF”) and a Joint Submission on Penalty (“JSP”). In the fall of 2020, the Student was required to take two tests each worth 20% of her final grade in the course. The Student admitted that during the second test, she panicked because she did not have enough time to finish her answers to all the questions on the test. The Student further admitted that she used the login information and password of another student to access that student’s answers, which she used to answer one of the questions on the test. Based on the facts and admissions set out in the ASF, the Panel found the Student guilty of the first two charges. Given this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.

Counsel for the University and counsel for the Student made submissions in support of the JSP. The University submitted that the proposed sanction was appropriate. The University noted for the Panel that the Student admitted to the offence from the outset and immediately made it clear that the other student had not been involved in the matter. The University also noted that it was the Student’s first offence, the Student was under great stress, and the offences were not premeditated and deliberate. However, the University asked the Panel to note that the offences were serious and had potential to adversely affect an innocent third party. In support of their position, the University pointed the Panel to a number of previous decisions which outlined the type of penalty typically imposed for a student who had been found guilty of the same offences. Furthermore, counsel noted that in previous cases, the Tribunal had ruled that it would only reject a JSP in circumstances where giving it effect would be contrary to the public interest or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. The Student’s counsel emphasized, in her submissions, that the Student had admitted guilt, cooperated with the University, and took responsibility for her actions. Furthermore, counsel outlined that the Student was emotionally distressed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting lack of contact with her family, and her medical conditions. Counsel further submitted that this was the Student’s first offence and that the consequences for the Student would be very significant as she would not be able to receive her degree for another two years which would make it more difficult for her to gain employment. In addition, since the Student was on a student visa, once the Student’s classes end, she may have to leave Canada. Counsel for the Student explained that since the Student was currently attending courses at the University, having the suspension begin later would allow the Student to complete the course work required to earn the degree she was pursing.

The Panel noted that in cases where the University and the student have reached an agreement on penalty it is not its role to decide on the penalty it might have imposed but rather the Panel must determine whether the proposed penalty falls within a reasonable range of outcomes. The Panel noted that the Student was diagnosed with a number of medical conditions that were suspectedly causing daytime sleepiness. She also was isolated from her family and worried about the financial consequences of failing the course. Upon review of the cases submitted by counsel and the JSP, the Panel accepted the JSP since the proposed sanction fell within the range of reasonable outcomes based on the evidence before it. The Panel noted that postponing the suspension to allow the Student to complete the other courses she required to complete her degree is reasonable in this case since the Student had no record of any prior academic offences, admitted to the offences, and cooperated with the University. Furthermore, the postponement of the suspension does not take the proposed penalty outside of the reasonable range of outcomes. The Panel imposed the following sanction: final grade of zero in the course; two-year suspension; a three-year notation on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.