Former TDSB Director Chris Spence may lose U of T doctorate

Tribunal recommends revoking Doctorate following concerns of plagiarism in 1996 thesis

Following claims that former Director of Education of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Chris Spence plagiarized several passages of his doctoral thesis, an independent tribunal has recommended that he be stripped of his Doctorate in Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education to the Governing Council.

The tribunal, an independent panel made up of a Chair, a faculty member, and a student member, presented the decision on June 20. The disciplinary tribunal heard arguments from the counsel for the Provost’s office and Spence’s team, with Spence himself absent. Spence’s lawyer claimed that his absence was due to an anxiety attack on Monday and asked for an adjournment; the panel declined this request.

A few days prior to the ruling of the tribunal, Spence requested a stay from the Ontario Divisional Court but was denied. In the ruling dated June 16, Judge Spies argued Spence’s request was premature; the University Tribunal had not yet issued a decision as of that day, and therefore the court could not issue a stay.

During the proceedings the Provost counsel provided 67 pieces of evidence strongly outlining the plagiarism committed in Spence’s 120-page thesis, including an uncredited nine-page section. The counsel also argued that in order to hide wrongdoing Spence altered American spelling to Canadian spelling.


Spence appealed the decision, asserting that the hearing should have been rescheduled because of his mental condition at the time. He also contended that he was unable to properly defend himself because of his absence. He asked that the decision be revoked, or that he be granted a new hearing.

Following Spence’s request for an appeal, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church told The Varsity that the case has yet to be taken up by the Governing Council. According to procedure, the applicant’s appeal will be heard by the Appeal Division. If the verdict remains unchanged, the Governing Council will have the final say on the matter.

The case is currently at the appellate stage. Spence previously resigned from his position as head of the TDSB in 2013 after allegations surfaced that he had plagiarized others’ work for a piece he wrote in the Toronto Star.

In December 2016, the Ontario College of Teachers stripped him of his teaching license, preventing him from teaching in the province. Since then he has been working in Chicago for a youth mentoring program and a social services organization, but has expressed his desire to teach again.

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