Case 1147

DATE: November 11, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. X.Y. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: October 5, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. Andrew Bernstein, Chair
Dr. Pascal van Lieshout, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Julie Farmer, Student Panel Member

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

Not in Attendance:
The Student

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

The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly obtained unauthorized assistance in connection with a final exam. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly represented as their own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in the final exam. In the further 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 final exam.

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. Assistant Discipline Counsel (“Counsel”) asked the Panel to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Student pursuant to rule 17 of the Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”) and section 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act. The Panel noted that these provisions require the Provost to establish that the University took reasonable steps to notify the Student of the charges and the hearing. The Panel further noted that the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students provides that students enrolled at the University are responsible for maintaining current contact information in the Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”) database inclusive of a valid University-issued email address and a valid postal address. Rule 9 of the Rules provides that service can be effected on a student by courier to their mailing address or via email to the student’s email address as recorded in ROSI. The Panel noted that the original hearing date for this matter was adjourned due to unforeseen circumstances that prevented the Chair of the previously assigned Panel from attending the original hearing date. The matter was adjourned to no specified date and was set down before a new panel of the Tribunal. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at her ROSI-listed email address with the charges and both notices of hearing. Furthermore, the University provided evidence that Counsel sent numerous emails to the Student. In a further attempt to reach the Student, Counsel’s office contacted the Student at the telephone number listed in ROSI and received a recording that indicated that the cellular number had not been assigned. Counsel’s office also couriered materials to the Student’s ROSI-provided mailing address, but the courier company advised that there was no one at that address by the Student’s name. The Panel noted that there was evidence that the Student had accessed her email account after service of the charges and attended the Dean’s Designate meeting, however, at one point she stopped accessing her email and it was unlikely that she was actually aware of the time or date of the hearing. The Panel noted that whether or not the Student actually received notice is not a question it needs to answer. The Panel further noted that the Student has an obligation to keep her information up to date in ROSI and check her e-mail, and that her failure to do so did not affect the validity of the notice, which was properly provided in accordance with the Rules. The Panel therefore ordered that the hearing should proceed in the Student’s absence.

Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code, the Panel received testimonial evidence of the Dean’s Designate and the Professor who taught the course for which the final exam in question was submitted. The Professor testified that she considered several aspects of the Student’s answers to be suspicious and noted that the answers were the same or very similar to other students. The Dean’s Designate testified that the five other students involved subsequently admitted to the offence of receiving unauthorized assistance. The Panel noted that the Student’s answers on the exam had obvious similarities with at least some of the five other students’ answers; the Professor testified that there was a myriad of ways that the students could have approached each question to arrive at an answer, which strongly suggested that the similarities were not a coincidence; and the Student made the exact same random mistakes as other students. The Panel concluded that the evidence in this case was more than sufficient to meet the balance of probabilities threshold and therefore, it concluded that the Student knowingly obtained unauthorized assistance in connection with the final exam, contrary to section B.i.1(b) of the Code.

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the factors set out in the decision University of Toronto and Mr. C. (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976). Furthermore, the Panel considered various cases submitted by Counsel that were consistent with the offence committed by the Student. After consideration of these cases, the Panel ordered the penalty requested by the University. However, the Panel adjusted the suspension to commence at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester so in the event that the Student elects to return in the Fall of 2023, she would be permitted to do so. The Panel noted that this penalty is consistent with the authorities from the Tribunal which ordered similar penalties for a first offence. The Panel agreed that consistency is an important value in assessing penalties and recognized the importance of academic integrity and honesty. Counsel argued that the Student’s failure to attend reflected a lack of contrition and is therefore an aggravating factor. While the Panel agreed that the Student’s non-attendance meant that it had no evidence of mitigating factors, it did not agree that the non-attendance itself was an aggravating factor. Furthermore, the Panel noted that it was not appropriate for it to draw the inference that the non-attendance reflected a lack of contrition. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension; a three-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.