Case 1229

DATE: December 16, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. M.K. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: September 24, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Michelle S. Henry, Chair
Professor Joseph Clarke, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Branden Cave, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Ahmed Elahi, Articling Student, 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 under s. B.i.1(e) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly submitted, without the knowledge and approval of the instructor to whom it was submitted, an essay for which credit had previously been obtained in another course at the University. The Student was also 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, and/or the work of another in an essay. In the alternative to each of these charges, 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 not otherwise described in the Code in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage.

The hearing was scheduled to commence at 9:45 a.m. and the Panel waited until 10:00 a.m. before commencing the hearing. The Student did not appear at the hearing. Counsel for the University requested that the Panel proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Student. The Panel noted that pursuant to ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”), and rule 17 of the University Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”), where reasonable notice of a hearing was given to a party in accordance with the SPPA and the party does not attend, the Tribunal may proceed in the absence of the party, and the party is not entitled to any further notice of the proceeding. Regarding service, the Panel noted that pursuant to rule 9 of the Rules, a notice of hearing may be served on a student by various means, including sending a copy of the document to the student’s mailing address contained in the Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”); or emailing a copy of the document to the student’s email address contained in ROSI. Further, the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students (“Policy”) indicates that students are responsible for maintaining a current and valid postal address and a University-issued email account in ROSI. The Policy makes it clear that students are expected to monitor and retrieve their mail, including electronic messaging accounts issued to them by the University, on a frequent and consistent basis. The Panel noted that in this case, the University provided evidence that the Student was served with the charges and the notice of electronic hearing via email to the email address of the Student contained in ROSI. The Panel also received evidence that the charges, a disclosure letter, and the notice of electronic hearing were sent via regular mail to the Student’s mailing address contained in ROSI. Based on the evidence and submissions of counsel for the University, the Panel concluded that the Student was given reasonable notice of the hearing in accordance with the notice requirement set out in the SPPA and the Rules. The Panel proceeded to hear the case on its merits in the absence of the Student.

Regarding the charge laid under s. B.i.1(e) of the Code, the Panel received affidavit evidence from the Professor who taught the course in which the essay in question was submitted. The Professor’s affidavit outlined that all students were required to submit their essay through Turnitin.com. The Student’s essay returned a similarity index of 71% which outlined that the source of the similar test was another assignment submitted by the Student to another course at the University. The Professor’s affidavit further outlined that as a result of the similarity index, the Professor discovered that the Student previously submitted the essay for academic credit in GGR 101. The Panel noted that it was the Professor’s evidence that the Student never asked permission to submit the previous assignment, in whole or in part, in her course and that she never provided the Student permission to do so. Based on the foregoing, the Panel found the Student guilty of one count of the academic offence of resubmission of an essay for which credit had previously been obtained in another course at the University, contrary to section B.i.1(e) of the Code. Given this finding, the University withdrew the charges under ss. B.i.1(d) and B.i.3(b) of the Code.

In determining sanction, the Panel heard submissions regarding the appropriate penalty, reviewed relevant past decisions of the Tribunal, and considered the factors set out in University of Toronto and C. (Case 1976/77-3; dated November 5, 1976). The Panel noted that since the Student did not participate in the proceeding, there was no evidence regarding the Student’s character or mitigating or extenuating circumstances. Regarding the likelihood of a repetition of the offence, the Panel noted that it was unable to make any findings regarding the likelihood of offence because the Student did not attend the Dean’s meeting or the hearing. The Panel considered the serious and deliberate nature of the offence and the detriment to the University. The Panel noted that the Student resubmitted their own work which, arguably, was not as egregious as submitting the work of another person as their own. However, resubmission of an essay for which credit had previously been obtained is a serious offence that is expressly noted in the Code. The Student was required to seek permission of their Professor prior to resubmitting their own work. The Panel noted that general deterrence is an important factor in these cases and that a strong message must be sent to other students that such misconduct is considered a serious offence. Regarding past decisions submitted by the University, the Panel noted that none of the cases were factually similar, in that none of the cases related to charges where the Student had resubmitted his own work. However, the Panel noted that the actions of the Student constitute plagiarism. Having regard to the submissions of the University and the relevant factors, the Panel agreed that the proposed sanction is appropriate. 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.