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UTM report finds increase in cases of academic misconduct in 2020–2021

Campus Safety report reveals drop in crime occurrence
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The committees held their last meeting of the year. HAYDEN MAK/ THE VARSITY
The committees held their last meeting of the year. HAYDEN MAK/ THE VARSITY

The UTM Academic Affairs Committee and the UTM Campus Affairs Committee held their final meetings of the 2021–2022 academic year on May 9 and May 12, respectively. 

Cases of academic misconduct increased significantly since the start of the pandemic as per the annual report on academic integrity presented to the Academic Affairs Committee.

Members of the UTM Campus Affairs Committee were provided with updates on capital projects and received the first annual report on the Campus Safety Special Constable Service, following its rebrand from Campus Police in 2021.

Academic offences on the rise  

Lisa Devereaux, UTM’s manager, academic integrity and affairs, presented the annual report on academic integrity.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that UTM has experienced an influx of academic offence cases, and unfortunately, this influx has only continued to grow,” Devereaux said.

There were 1,799 cases of academic misconduct reported in the 2020–2021 academic year, which is more than twice the number of cases reported in years prior to the pandemic. The total number of cases includes cases resolved by the department in which they were reported, cases resolved in the Office of the Dean, cases referred to the University Tribunal, and cases that were dismissed.

Although the most prevalent type of academic offence has remained the use of unauthorized aids — much like in previous years — there has been a substantial increase in the volume of such cases since 2019. In the 2018–2019 academic year, cases involving the use of unauthorized aids made up 379 of the 687 total cases. In the 2019–2020 and the 2020–2021 academic years, these cases alone made up more than 1,000 of the total cases each year. 

Devereaux noted three growing trends with the use of unauthorized aids. There was an increase in the use of Chegg — an online, subscription-based, tutoring platform — and in the number of students purchasing custom essays from online essay vendors. 

She also found that students have been seeking help with live assessments from third-party tutoring services. These services have been “aggressively targeting incoming international students.”

Recently, U of T announced a lawsuit against one such international, online tutoring platform — Easy EDU. The university alleged that the company is distributing copyrighted material belonging to three U of T professors. The university cautioned that the company presents itself as catering to the unique needs of international students who may be scared of learning in an unfamiliar environment. The company may also be providing “unauthorized academic assistance.” 

With 723 cases, the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences saw the most cases of any program. The departments of Anthropology, Language Studies, Geography, and Chemical and Physical Sciences all saw over 150 cases. 

In an effort to better address the rise in cases of academic misconduct, the Academic Integrity Unit has hired two additional dean’s designates and academic integrity assistants, thereby doubling its case resolution capacity. 

The unit has also introduced several initiatives aimed at student engagement, including Academic IntegriTea sessions where students meet to drink tea and discuss all things academic integrity.

Campus safety updates

The annual UTM Campus Safety report indicates a sharp decrease in the occurrence of crime on the campus in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021, total instances of reported crimes fell from 58 to 27.

Notably, there were more than 80 reported crimes on campus in both 2018 and 2019.

The drop in recent years is likely a consequence of the smaller faculty and student presence on campus in 2020 and 2021, as a result of COVID-19 safety measures.

In August 2021, U of T rebranded its campus police force as Campus Safety, as part of a larger plan to create a more “approachable, accessible and distinguishable” identity for the service.  

Since then, UTM Campus Safety has implemented changes to its vehicles, uniforms, badges, and signage to reflect the new name.

In the past year, UTM Campus Safety has attended various training courses offered by the Peel Regional Police. These included Recognition of Emotionally Disturbed Persons, Scenario Based Mental Health and De-escalation, and First Aid and CPR.  

New construction on campus

Campus Affairs Committee members were given a presentation on capital projects at the meeting. Presently, there are $415 million worth of active projects on campus.

The Level 1 projects — which cost less than $10 million — include various renovations and infrastructural changes. 

A new student services hub — a Level 2 project, which cost between $10 and $50 million  —  is scheduled to complete construction in 2023.

A new science building and new residence are also anticipated for completion in 2023 and 2026, respectively.  

Changes to undergraduate program delivery

The Academic Affairs Committee passed a motion to modify the mode of delivery for the Specialist program in Digital Enterprise Management and the Major program in Culture, Communication, Information and Technology.

Both programs were jointly delivered by UTM and Sheridan College. With this modification approved, the two programs will be administered separately by each school.

Beginning in fall 2022, all courses within the two programs that had previously been delivered at Sheridan College will be delivered at UTM, by the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology.