DATE: November 29, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.L. ("the Student")
HEARING DATE: August 20, 2021, via Zoom
Ms. Alexi Wood, Chair
Dr. Pascal van Lieshout, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Julie Farmer, Student Panel Member
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Not in Attendance:
Ms. Carmelle Salomon-Labbé, Associate Director, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
Ms. Nadia Bruno, Special Projects Officer, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly represented as her own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in a final exam. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.1(b) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly obtained unauthorized assistance in connection with a 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. The Panel noted that s. 6 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”) requires reasonable notice of the hearing be provided to the parties. Furthermore, rule 9 of the University Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”) provides for the various methods of service for documents including the charges and notice of hearing. The Panel noted that these methods include personal service, courier to the student’s mailing address, or via email to their email address as recorded in the Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”). The Panel further noted that the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students provides that students are responsible for providing current contact information in ROSI and are expected to monitor and retrieve all mail, including emails, on a frequent and consistent basis. The Panel considered s. 7 of the SPPA and rule 17 of the Rules which allow the Tribunal to proceed in the absence of a student where notice has been given. The Panel noted that when proceeding in the absence of a student, the University must demonstrate it took reasonable steps to notify a student of the charges and of the hearing. The University does not need to prove actual notice. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at her ROSI-listed email address with the charges and the notice of hearing. The Student was subsequently provided an opportunity to provide submissions in relation to the form of the proceeding. The Student did not respond, and the hearing was ordered to proceed electronically. Furthermore, the University provided evidence that Assistant Discipline Counsel’s legal assistant called the phone number that the Student provided in ROSI and the Student answered. She advised the Student of the hearing date and asked the Student to check her University of Toronto email. The Student advised she would check her email. The University further provided evidence that the Student had not accessed her email since September 2020, before any of the documents were served by email. Based on the foregoing, the Panel found that the University took reasonable steps to notify the Student of the charges and the hearing and proceeded to hear the case on its merits in the Student’s absence.
Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel received testimonial evidence of an Assistant Professor who was the course coordinator of the course for which the final exam in question was submitted. The Assistant Professor testified that Chegg.com is a subscription-based website that allows students to post problems, which are then answered by so-called “experts.” He further testified that instructors and teaching assistants found a number of the final exam questions posted on Chegg.com along with model answers to the questions. The Assistant Professor testified that the Student’s exam contained answers to various questions that were substantially similar to the answers found on Chegg.com. He further testified that while some of the answers were correct, the solution sets took the same steps set out in the answers posted on Chegg.com. Furthermore, the incorrect answers contained the same errors as the answers posted to Chegg.com. The Panel noted that the Assistant Professor explained in his testimony that while there were multiple ways to solve each problem, it would have been incredibly unlikely for each step to match exactly line by line. The Panel noted that the onus is on the University to establish on a balance of probabilities, using clear and convincing evidence, that the Student committed the academic offence. Upon review of the handwritten answers provided by the Student and the handwritten answers on Chegg.com, it concluded that the Student was not the author of the answers posted on Chegg.com. The Panel concluded that the University established that the Student copied the answers from Chegg.com and was guilty of academic misconduct as outlined in s. B.i.1(d) of the Code. Given the Panel’s findings, the University withdrew the alternative charges.
In determining sanction, the Panel considered the factors outlined in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976). Furthermore, the Panel considered various cases submitted by Assistant Discipline Counsel that were consistent with the offence committed by the Student. After consideration of these cases, the Panel ordered the penalty sought by the University. However, the Panel ordered that the suspension run concurrently with the Student’s current academic suspension. The Panel noted that there was no evidence before it on which it could conclude that the Student purchased the Chegg.com subscription, however, the Panel found that the Student intended to and did access Chegg.com. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Student chose not to participate in the hearing and to forgo her opportunity to provide evidence in an attempt to mitigate the penalty. The Panel further noted that it was mindful of the fact that these events occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic and that the Student was a foreign student. In imposing the penalty, the Panel noted that the penalty sought was not at the high end of the range, and, in light of the surrounding circumstances, the Panel felt it was appropriate. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension to run concurrently with the Student’s academic suspension; a three-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.