University upholds decision to officially strip Chris Spence of PhD

67 alleged counts of plagiarism found in former TDSB Director of Education’s dissertation

University upholds decision to officially strip Chris Spence of PhD

A U of T appeals tribunal upheld the June 2017 decision to strip former Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Director of Education Chris Spence of his PhD due to 67 alleged counts of plagiarism found in his dissertation.

In 2013, it was revealed that Spence’s plagiarism spanned articles, books, blogs, and his dissertation. Since then, he has resigned from the TDSB, and in 2016, the Ontario College of Teachers revoked his teaching licence. The university attempted to hold a hearing since then, but it was only able to do so last year.

The original June hearing proceeded despite Spence’s request for adjournment, citing mental health issues. Neither Spence nor his lawyer, Darryl Singer, were present for the hearing. Singer claimed that no penalty should have been given, due to their absences. However, Spence had been previously warned that the hearing would take place whether or not he had counsel, and that it could proceed even if he was not present.

As reported chronologically by the Appeals Board report, the past five years were marked by a constant back and forth between the tribunal and Spence, with Spence repeatedly citing health concerns against the university’s continued attempts to hold the hearing.

With his frequent absences, Spence elongated his hearings with both U of T and the Ontario College of Teachers. However, Spence was unsuccessful in proving his medical claims. A doctor who reviewed Spence’s report claiming health concerns decided that there was not enough evidence to prove that he would be physically or psychologically incapable of participating in the hearings.

Ultimately, in the view of the tribunal, Spence never fully substantiated his claims that he was medically incapable of participating. At the original hearing, Spence’s counsel claimed he was unable to participate due to an anxiety attack the day before. This claim was not medically affirmed.

In his request for appeal, Spence argued that, were he able to participate in the hearing, it would have influenced the outcome. He also argued that the revocation of his degree after a successful 20-year career had an “inordinately serious and inappropriate impact,” which the tribunal found to be reason for a greater penalty rather than a lesser one.

The appeals tribunal expressed that there was nothing irregular about the decision, and that Spence’s claims that he was not given sufficient notice were unsubstantiated.

Singer told the Toronto Star that he intends to bring the case to the Ontario Divisional Court, and that he has until March 2 to file notice if he chooses to do so. Spence also plans to appeal the retraction of his teaching licence.

Where Wente went wrong

The Globe and Mail's noncommittal response to plagiarism undermines importance of integrity in writing

Where Wente went wrong

One of the first things that students are told during Orientation Week is ‘don’t plagiarize’ — passing someone else’s ideas off as your own is unethical and degrading to academic scholarship. Unfortunately, it seems this same message struggles to come through in parts of the professional world.

Margaret Wente has had her own column for The Globe and Mail since 1992. Over the past four years, multiple instances of plagiarism have been exposed within her work. Wente has repeatedly failed to properly cite her sources, which is the kind of mistake that would likely cost rookies their job and potentially their career. Yet, her work continues to be published in The Globe each week.

Journalism is built on an honour system that revolves around integrity, trust, and the truth. Wente’s continued employment is troubling in this regard, and The Globe’s response to the most recent allegations of her plagiarism is disappointing.

The Globe is only hurting itself by keeping Wente around. By failing to adequately respond to Wente’s plagiarism, The Globe is setting their ethical bar low and diminishing their brand credibility in the process.

Editor-in-chief David Walmsley chalked the veteran writer’s infractions up to a self-editing problem reminiscent of the rudimentary craftsmanship of first-year university paper-writers. In an article written by The Globe’s public editor on the incident Walmsley stated, “It shouldn’t have happened and the Opinion team will be working with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again.”

Walmsley’s response seems like a clever public relations tactic that attempts to neutralize an otherwise serious situation. This sends a dangerous message to the public, journalists, and students alike, that Wente’s plagiarism is somehow acceptable; in reality, the opposite is true. Within the university context, the consequences of attributing someone else’s ideas as your own can be dire: from being forced to withdraw from a course, to expulsion, and even to possible legal repercussions. Journalists should be held to the same standard.  

Lisa Taylor, assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, specializes in ethics and law. When considering the issue of plagiarism, Taylor is firm in her stance: “There’s no denying that it does diminish the credibility of the writer. Truth telling is the very essence of journalism. You will put your name on it and you will stand by your work. That’s all you have to offer your readers.”

Indeed, The Globe is only hurting itself by keeping Wente around. By failing to adequately respond to Wente’s plagiarism, The Globe is setting their ethical bar low and diminishing their brand credibility in the process.

It is unfathomable that such a large and influential publication would tarnish its reputation for one columnist, veteran or not. Regardless of the underlying motivations for keeping Wente on the payroll, in this respect, it’s not doing anyone any favours.

For the sake of ethical writing, plagiarism must be answered with severity. In the meantime, The Globe may want to take note of the anti-plagiarism strategies that are implemented at universities. Perhaps a hearing before the equivalent of a University Tribunal would be the most effective course of action, so that Wente can begin to regain the trust of her readership.

Lisa Power is a fourth-year student at New College studying English literature. She is The Varsity’s Arts & Culture Editor.