In June, an independent tribunal at the University of Toronto recommended to the Governing Council that Chris Spence, the former Director of Education of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), be stripped of his doctorate from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education due to concerns of plagiarism in his doctoral thesis.
The case drew attention in large part because tribunal proceedings concerning academic offences are made publicly available on the website of U of T’s Governing Council. Case summaries, statistics, and minutes of the process are all presented.
The Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, which governs academic life at the university, outlines six possible academic offences: falsified documents, unauthorized assistance, impersonation, plagiarism, re-submitting one’s own work, and making up facts.
The Varsity investigated all 46 incidents from the 2016–2017 academic year, and according to the raw data, only one student was acquitted, constituting a 2.2 per cent clearance rate. This means that in a given year, there is a 97.8 per cent chance that severe disciplinary action will be taken in response to a reported academic offense dealt with by the tribunal. The one case in which charges were dismissed was when a student was accused of plagiarism and unauthorized assistance in a course that was disrupted due to the 2015 TA strike.
The number one infraction of the 2016–2017 year was the falsifying of documents, which pertained to 50 per cent of cases, followed by plagiarism at 39.6 per cent and unauthorized assistance at 30.4 per cent. Many of these cases concerned multiple transgressions. Close to a third of the incidents resulted in the tribunal recommending expulsion, in addition to long notations on transcripts.
There were 38 offences involving undergraduate courses, and among the three campuses, 43.5 per cent of all tribunal cases originated from UTM, followed by UTSG at 34.8 per cent, and UTSC at 4.3 per cent. Not all academic offences took place in courses. Other examples include falsified documents used in applications to jobs and other universities.
The average time between the charge and the hearing of the case was roughly seven months, ranging from a low of two months to a high of about three-and-a-half years.
Chris Lang, Director of Appeals, Discipline, and Faculty Grievances, said, “Any student who comes before the tribunal, either themselves or with a representative, has access to all the information and can therefore know what’s persuasive at the tribunal, how to prepare a case… It’s about transparency.”
According to Andrea Russell, Director of Academic Affairs at the Office of the Vice-Provost, Academic Programs, “All full-time students who are members of UTSU and who have paid the Downtown Legal Services levy that UTSU administers are eligible to access [their] services free of charge.”
The cases presided over by the University Tribunal represent only a fraction of all academic offences. “The vast majority of academic offences are not resolved at the University Tribunal, but rather within a division or a faculty,” Russell explained. The facts of these incidents are not publicized or reported online.
There is a selection process to choose tribunal members. According to Lang, members are made up of Chairs — “legally qualified people” — faculty members, and students. Chairs are approved by the Academic Board, based on recommendation by a nominating committee, and the others are appointed by Lang himself as the tribunal secretary.
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