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Handling Academic Offences - 5 Easy Steps for Instructors

If you suspect that an academic offence has taken place follow these steps

Step 1: Establish a time to meet with the student.

Step 2: Conduct an interview with the student in person and in private.

Step 3: Determine whether or not an academic offence has occurred.

Step 4: If yes, provide a brief written summary of your findings for the Chair/Dean.

Step 5: The case is now in the hands of the department/division. You may be called upon to attend a decanal meeting and reveal your findings, and if the matter goes to Tribunal you may be asked to take part at this level.

Instructors who have questions about the process relating to the handling of academic offences may direct their inquiries to the appropriate divisional contact (see below). These offices (or individuals) are also available to provide advice regarding particular academic integrity issues or to discuss a specific situation.

Faculty of Arts and Science, Office of Student Academic Integrity

Front-line Administrator, 416-946-0428 osai.artsci@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto at Mississauga

Lucy Gaspini, Executive Assistant, Office of the Dean, 905-828-3964, lgaspini@utm.utoronto.ca

University of Toronto at Scarborough

Eleanor Irwin, Dean's Designate, irwin@utsc.utoronto.ca

Please note: at UTSC, all cases should first be forwarded to the Chair of the appropriate Department.


What should I do if I suspect that an academic offence has been committed?

The first step in this process involves the instructor.  When an instructor has reasonable grounds to believe that an academic offence has been committed by a student, the instructor must first meet with the student to discuss the matter.  Invite the student to meet with you in your office – it is best not to mention your suspicions. Do not confront the student in public, and do not humiliate him or her (see below for how best to conduct the interview). 


How should I conduct the meeting with the student?

Interviews should be set up in person and in private and should not be conducted over the phone

Be prepared.

  • Gather all of the evidence in advance and familiarize yourself with it.
  • If you are concerned about the student’s reaction, have a list of emergency telephone numbers on hand or speak to someone from one of the counselling services in advance (see emergency contact information below). Be alert to indications that the student may harm himself or herself or possibly endanger others, and act prudently. This may mean finding help on the spot (you might consider having relevant phone numbers on hand in the event that such a situation develops – see below **), or even accompanying a student to the office of a counsellor, health service or other appropriate place.

Be thorough.

  • Make notes (a full transcription isn’t necessary) to assist you in preparing a complete summary. You may need to refer to these notes if and when the matter is pursued by your department/division and/or if the case goes to the Tribunal phase.  Be sure to keep your notes! 

Be professional and fair.

  • Do not tell the student that you believe they have committed an academic offence. First, ask them to discuss their paper, their research methods and the sources that they have used. Ask them about the particular passages of the paper that you have found to be suspicious and ask them to identify their sources. You will need to determine if they have knowingly plagiarized or if they have made errors in their referencing. 
  • Give the student the opportunity to explain the circumstances as well as the opportunity to admit to the offence. Remember this is not an interrogation.

Be even-handed.

  • Don’t discriminate in your meeting and don’t hold back confronting a good student or one who may regard you as a friend. But avoid getting in a shouting match.

In addition,

  • Do not return the assignment in question to the student.
  • Do not impose any sanctions on the student or indicate that you will be doing so.
  • Do not advise the student to withdraw from the course.

What sort of documentation should I collect?

Depending on the type of offence, there is a variety of documentation that will assist with these cases, for example:

Plagiarism: - retain the original assignment
- any evidence that illustrates plagiarism (photocopies of the plagiarized sources, originality reports from Turnitin.com, etc.)
- notes from your meeting with the student

Cheating: - collect and retain crib notes used during tests/exams
- document any suspicious activity and retain your notes


How do I go about assessing the situation after the interview?

Be fair. This is most important of all. Although the Code uses the term “knowingly” in describing offences (and interprets this to include “ought reasonably to have known”), there may be times when the student is genuinely unaware that what he or she has done is wrong. Other students may have a legitimate exculpatory explanation. Don’t deny them the benefit of the doubt as you assess the situation. Remember that the whole process is intended to be not just punitive, although it is that, but also educational. This doesn’t mean you have to be “soft”; it does mean that you need to listen to the student’s side of the story. And above all it means that you have to show your own judgment.


What should I do after I’ve conducted the interview with the student?

After the discussion with the student the instructor will make a determination as to whether or not he/she feels an offence has occurred. 

  1. If the instructor is satisfied that no offence has been committed he/she will inform the student and no further action shall be taken unless additional evidence comes forward.
  2. If the instructor believes that an offence has been committed, or if the student fails/neglects to respond to an invitation to discuss the matter, the instructor shall provide a written report of the matter for the Chair/Dean.  At this point, the matter rests with the Chair/Dean who will contact the student in writing, provide them with a copy of the Academic Code and discuss the matter further with the student. 

Do I have to report all academic offences?

It is your responsibility to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence for a case to go forward. If you or your Teaching Assistant suspect that an offence has occurred it is your responsibility to look into the matter by conducting an initial interview with the student.  However unpleasant the task, it is your obligation to confront a case of plagiarism (or any other academic offence) head on. Not to do so undermines the effectiveness of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters and sends the message that the University is not serious about cheating.


Is there a timeline that I should follow in pursuing matters of academic offences?

In a word, do it promptly. It is important for fairness and for accuracy to move as quickly as possible when you suspect dishonesty. Delays can cause unnecessary anguish for students - especially if the allegation proves to be unfounded - and they can dim recollection of exactly what happened. But do not confront a student until you are prepared. You should have whatever evidence there is in hand and have thought through your approach before meeting with the student. It is a fact that many cases of dishonest behaviour occur at “crunch times” (which tend to be the same for both students and instructors) and there is a temptation to put off dealing with an issue. Don’t.


Who should I contact if I have questions about the policies and procedures?

It is best to first familiarize yourself with the provisions of the Code.  If you need additional clarification or assistance you should speak with the Undergraduate Coordinator/Associate Chair in your department or your Chair/Dean.  If you are uncertain about how to move forward or have any concerns or questions be sure to make your inquiries before you pursue the matter

Deviation from the steps set out in the Code can not only be unfair to the student - and provide grounds for appeal - but can weaken your own case, especially if the matter is sent to Tribunal.

Instructors who have questions about the process relating to the handling of academic offences may direct their inquiries to the appropriate divisional contact (see Step 5 above). These offices (or individuals) are also available to provide advice regarding particular academic integrity issues or to discuss a specific situation.


As a faculty member am I responsible for imposing sanctions on students who have committed academic offences?

No.  Keep in mind that instructors are not empowered to impose a sanction. If, after your meeting with the student, you feel that an offence has occurred, you are required to report it to your chair and/or through the chair to the dean.


Penalties and Sanctions for Academic Offences

It is strongly recommended that instructors refrain from mentioning a specific penalty for academic offences. Rather, it is suggested that instructors stress that the penalties are enforced but that they themselves are not empowered to impose them.  Instructors may wish to direct students to the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters which addresses the issue of sanctions in Appendix C (see below).


Provost's Guidelines on Sanctions, Offences and Suggested Penalties For Students

(from the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, Appendix C)

Sanctions

  1. One or more of the sanctions in section C.i.(b) may be imposed by the dean where a student or former student admits to the commission of an offence.
  2. One or more of the sanctions in section C.ii.(b) may be imposed by the Tribunal upon conviction of any student or former student of any offence.

Relation of Offences and Sanctions

The particular circumstances of each case will, of course, have to be taken into account, but the following are suggested guidelines:

  1. For offences on term work, term tests or final exams, the sanction recommended is not less than twice the value of the exam, work or test.
  2. For submitting work, where it forms a major fraction of the course, in whole from another person, the sanction recommended shall be suspension from the University for at least two years.
  3. Where a student has been previously convicted under the Code and commits another offence, the recommended sanction shall be from suspension for two years to expulsion from the University.
  4. For offences related to damaging or misusing library materials, computer equipment or other facilities the recommended sanctions shall be a monetary fine and/or denial of privileges to use the facility involved.
  5. For submitting purchased work, the sanction recommended shall be expulsion from the University. The minimum sanction shall be suspension from the University for a period of time and zero as the final grade where the offence occurred.
  6. For personating, or having an individual personate on a test or examination, the recommended sanction shall be expulsion from the University.

What should I do if I uncover plagiarism through my use of Turnitin.com?

Follow the same steps as you would with any other type of academic offence.  First, set up an interview with the student, discuss the assignment with them, and make a judgment based on the evidence and the discussion.  Keep the student’s assignment and a copy of the Originality Report to attach to your report to the Chair/Dean.


Can I ask my teaching assistant to deal with academic offences?

No. If a TA suspects plagiarism or other academic offences it is there responsibility to inform the professor/course supervisor before returning any work to the student.  They have no authority to make any decision regarding the work. They should refer the student to the professor if he/she has any questions.  The responsibility in these cases lies with the professor/course supervisor and teaching assistants should not be making accusations, grading assignments or imposing sanctions on students.


Resources for Your Students

Some students may be very seriously upset by the news that you suspect they have committed an academic offense. If you are concerned that a student may not be able to cope with this situation, you might wish to consult with the Coordinator of Student Crisis Response (416-971-7111) before confronting the student. Any reference to suicide needs to be taken very seriously. If a student talks in a specific manner about harming themselves, refer them to the appropriate resource listed below.

Emergency Situations

Students requiring immediate help can be seen the same day during weekday office hours at:

After Hours Emergencies:

  • Gerstein Centre 416- 929-5200
    Free, voluntary, and confidential crisis intervention service over the phone and in-person. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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