Feb 09, 2002

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How student discipline policy works

Although not all breaches of a policy will result in the courts overturning decisions, we should follow our policies. By Joan Brockman “It is patently unreasonable to conclude that a denial is an admission.” With these words on Jan. 11, 2002, the Ontario Superior Court quashed the decision of the University of Toronto's dean of the faculty of law, Ronald Daniels, setting aside both his finding that Roxanne Shank had engaged in academic dishonesty and the sanction he had imposed. What did the dean do wrong? He failed to follow the university's policy. Under the University of Toronto's Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, the dean is entitled to impose sanctions on a student, “if the student admits the alleged offence.” Although Shank made all sorts of admissions, she did not admit to academic dishonesty. When she appeared before the dean for sanctioning, the following conversation took place: RS (Roxanne Shank) - You believe that I intentionally put 2 +s on 2 Cs? (i.e. C+) RD (Ronald Daniels) - Yes, I'm sorry, I wasn't persuaded by it ... I was not prepared to see it as a mere transcript error ... Bruce Chapman felt the same way ... there are other students in similar circumstances. RS - What do you think ... what possible advantage is there in putting 2 +s on 2 Cs? RD - It's a stronger record ... I'm sorry ... I've taken careful notes but I believe that this is the appropriate sanction ... You can request that the Provost review RS - what is the process RD - it is stipulated in the Code RS - you didn't talk to Laura RD - that is not within my is my role to impose a sanction. RS - I said I never had any intention or motive RD - You were asked if you admitted the academic offence. RS - I agreed that there was a discrepancy. RD - You have a recourse available. RS - didn't talk to Laura, Joseph, anyone in terms of the fact that I was representing honesty (sic). RD - I am not a the end, I think this is appropriate. RS - Why? RD - in the end, I do not believe your account ... I don't believe that they ended up there by accident.

Faced with this denial, the dean's only alternatives were to accept the denial or “if he disbelieve[d] the student, . . . refer the matter to the Provost for possible referral to the tribunal,” the judge said. Anyone involved in student discipline should not act outside a stated policy, for any reason. While our disciplinary process at Simon Fraser University is different from the University of Toronto's, the lesson is the same: although not all breaches of a policy will result in the courts overturning decisions, we should follow our policies. As faculty, what should we do? For the most part, we deal with honest students. Calling in students to discuss suspicions of academic dishonesty is not pleasant. After years of detailing how my students should document their assignments, I still found various forms of academic dishonesty. So, I now add the following to my Instructions for Written Assignments: “The following excuses (or any others you can come up with) will not be accepted if you plagiarize material: • I didn't know I had to put quotations in quotation marks. • I didn't know I had to provide the page numbers for paraphrases. • I forgot to go back through my paper and put in quotation marks. • I have never done anything like this before. • I gave you the page numbers and it was from your textbook so it was not as if I was intentionally trying to deceive you (for quotations without quotation marks). • I didn't know I had to provide citations. • I was going to go back and change the quotations to paraphrases, but I guess I forgot to do that. • I didn't mean to do it. • I didn't understand your instructions. They weren't very clear. • I've been doing it like this in --(take your pick of departments) for years. • I've been doing it like this for -- (take your pick of professors), and s/he has never had any objection. • I had a lot of references and got confused. • I didn't bother reading your instructions. Should you still decide to plagiarize, the answer to the following questions is, NO: • Can I redo the assignment? • Can I do another assignment? • Can you just give me a break? • I will just drop the course. Will you sign the form?” My other tactic for minimizing academic dishonesty is to have students incorporate required course readings in all written assignments. This cuts down on the ease with which a student can download a paper from the Internet. Most cases of academic dishonesty, even if discovered, never make it to the university board on student discipline (UBSD). Policy T10.03 allows instructors to deal with academic dishonesty by warning the student, requiring work to be redone, assigning a lower grade, or imposing a failing mark for the work. The instructor may also refer the matter to the departmental chair, who may issue a formal reprimand, assign an F for the course, or refer the case to the USBD. This decision must be communicated to the student in writing, and copied to the registrar. Where academic records are deposited is important. The only record that a USBD tribunal may consider at the sanction stage is the record at the registrar's office, or multiple cases kept by a chair and brought to the UBSD. A record from one departmental chair's office will not be considered if another department brings a case to the UBSD, so an instructor or chair should not refer to these other matters before a tribunal. Of the 65 cases in the board's first seven years, 31 per cent were for plagiarism, 28 per cent for falsifying documents (including falsifying marked examinations and asking for a reconsideration of a grade), 26 per cent were for cheating on an examination, and 15 per cent were misconduct (abusive behaviour, theft from the bookstore, misuse of computer resources,etc.). The UBSD consists of four students, three faculty, three staff, and a coordinator. Hearings are held before a tribunal of three members which must include a student and a faculty member. The chair of the tribunal votes only if there is a tie. Students are entitled to appear with a representative of their choice. While tribunals follow the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, they are not bound by strict rules of procedure and evidence. Students are notified of the hearings and are entitled to hear and see all evidence against them. They have a right to cross-examine any witnesses. Any procedural error that is of “sufficient magnitude that it may reasonably be said to have affected the fairness of the process or altered the outcome of the case” is a ground for appeal to the senate committee on disciplinary appeals (SCODA). If a student disputes findings of academic dishonesty, the tribunal may meet in two stages - a hearing on the merits of the case, to decide whether the student engaged in academic dishonesty; and a second hearing to consider what sanction to recommend the president impose. At the sanction hearing, the tribunal will consider the deliberateness of the dishonesty, whether it was an isolated incident, the importance of the work in question, and any other relevant circumstances.

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