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Academic Misconduct Lawyers

Academic misconduct is taken quite seriously by post-secondary institutions and regulatory bodies such as the Law Society of Ontario. Regulatory bodies such as the Law Society of Ontario consider past instances of academic misconduct when determining if an applicant is of “good character.” Being of “good character” is required for admittance into their respective professions. Relevant factors include the severity of the misconduct, any repeat offences, and whether the applicant has learned from their mistakes and demonstrated remorse. Consulting a lawyer is highly advisable if you are being accused of academic misconduct or you are under a “good character” investigation. Attaining legal advice from a knowledgeable lawyer will help you attain optimal professional and academic outcomes.

What is Academic Misconduct?

Academic misconduct refers to any conduct that undermines the integrity and ethical standards of the academic setting. It includes various forms of dishonest or unethical academic behaviour, such as cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification of information, such as making up lab results.

Cheating in any form is against the policies and guidelines established by an organization. Academic misconduct occurs when someone tries to use unauthorized methods, including lying, cheating, or plagiarism, in order to gain an unfair advantage over other students and improve their own grades.

What Penalties are there for Academic Misconduct?

The kinds of penalties one might face if found guilty of academic misconduct can vary widely depending on how serious the transgression was and what the educational institution’s specific policies say. For more serious transgressions such as plagiarism, the penalties could include suspension or expulsion from the institution. These measures are typically reserved for the most severe transgressions or people who have repeatedly engaged in academic dishonesty. This is because repeat-offenders are seen to not show remorse nor have they learned from their mistakes.

Less severe penalties might include having to resubmit the assignment, receiving a failing grade on the assignment, or failing the course altogether. Additionally, even if you receive a warning or a grade deduction, there might be a note placed in your academic record. This note can remain for several years (sometimes up to five years) and can lead to harsher penalties if you are found guilty of academic misconduct again.

It is important to understand your institution’s specific policies and procedures regarding academic misconduct to be fully aware of the potential consequences.

What are some examples of Academic Misconduct?

There are numerous instances in which academic misconduct may occur.

An example of cheating could include a student using ChatGPT to write them an essay for English class which they then submit under the pretense that it is their own writing. This is the intentional misrepresentation of the amount of work that they have put in, and is unfair to students who wrote their own essays and came up with their own ideas.

Plagiarism refers to presenting someone else’s work, ideas, or words as your own without proper attribution. It is also important to be mindful of unauthorized paraphrasing. If you take someone else’s work and change a few words here and there, you could still be in trouble for plagiarism since it is still essentially someone else’s work. Knowing how to correctly cite and attribute your sources will help prevent you from committing plagiarism. This includes knowing when to use direct quotations when citing work from other sources. Note that even if you unintentionally commit plagiarism, you still might be subject to penalties by your postsecondary institution.

It is important to note that it is possible to plagiarize yourself in cases where you try to resubmit work from a previous year to a course you are currently taking without proper authorization. For instance, a student writes an essay for their first-year university English class that they got an A in. The next year, they choose to submit the same essay from that class to their second-year creative writing class. Since they are misrepresenting the amount of work they put into the essay, as the vast majority of students wrote the essay from scratch using original, fresh ideas, this could be seen as plagiarism.

Collusion means working with others on an assignment meant to be completed individually without proper authorization from the instructor. For example, let’s say all tutorial assignments have to be done independently as stated in the course outline. However, Person A and Person B have been working on their tutorial assignments together in disregard of the course policy. They share answers and copy one another. This is called collusion.

Sabotage refers to the intentional obstructing or tampering with someone else’s academic work. An example might be during a lab bellringer where students are asked to identify a specific muscle that is marked by an arrow on a sticky note. Let’s say that student A moves the sticky note to point to a completely different muscle. This would have the effect of causing other students to misidentify the muscle, get the question wrong, and therefore give student A an unfair advantage over others in terms of marks and grades. This action is sabotage. It might be more common in highly competitive fields because of the students’ desire to rank higher in the class which might open the way up for better jobs and opportunities when compared to students with lower grades.

Understanding Workplace Investigations

Will instances of academic misconduct stay on my record?

Whether instances of academic misconduct stay on your record depends on the policies of the academic institution involved. In many cases, a record of academic misconduct can have lasting consequences, such as being noted on your academic transcript or disciplinary record. This can jeopardize one’s future academic or professional opportunities.

Depending on the specific institutions’ policy, even if there were no serious penalties imposed, an incident of academic misconduct might stay on one’s record. Institutions commonly note warnings and incidents of academic misconduct to ensure that if it happens a second time, there will be harsher penalties. This has a rehabilitative and deterring effect, to prevent people from re-engaging in such acts of academic dishonesty.

What if I did not know that what I was doing was considered academic misconduct?

If you were unaware that your actions constituted academic misconduct, you might wish to communicate this to the appropriate authorities within your institution. Some institutions may consider your intent and awareness when determining consequences. However, ignorance of the rules is usually not a valid defence, so understanding and adhering to academic integrity policies is important. To make matters more complicated, owning up to what you did and demonstrating remorse can be seen as a mitigating factor in a “good character” investigation.

To ensure the best possible outcome, you may benefit from consulting with a lawyer experienced in academic misconduct cases. Legal advice can help you navigate the situation, present your case effectively, and potentially mitigate any consequences.

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Recent Cases

J.D. v. University of Toronto, 2007 CanLII 4311 (ON SC)

Here, the plaintiff, J. D., sued their university for $3 million in damages for negligence, mental distress, and breach of contract. J. D. began her Ph.D. in dentistry in 1986 but did not complete it within the ten-year time limit, despite several extensions and a maternity leave. By 1996, she had not finished her program and sought advice from Dr. A.R. Ten Cate, who advised her to deregister and complete her thesis outside the program before seeking reinstatement. J.D. followed this advice, but her subsequent request for reinstatement was nonetheless rejected by the university.

J. D. asserted that Dr. Ten Cate’s advice was negligent because it failed to sufficiently inform her of alternatives like compassionate leave, which could have extended her enrollment and allowed her to complete her thesis within the program’s deadlines. She also claimed that the university’s review process was unfair, biased, and lacked transparency, thereby violating principles of natural justice.

The defendants moved to dismiss J.D.’s action, arguing that her grievances were essentially about academic matters, which are not within the Court’s purview, except for limited judicial review matters regarding procedural fairness. The judge decided in favour of the defendants, asserting that J.D.’s complaints pertained to academic decisions and procedures, areas where the Court traditionally does not interfere except in exceptional cases.

J.D.’s claims were ultimately dismissed as it was found that she did not disclose a reasonable cause of action for which damages could be awarded. The Court suggested that her proper recourse would be through a judicial review rather than a claim for damages. The decision emphasized that disputes about academic judgments and processes can sometimes be outside the court’s scope, provided that the institution complies with natural justice principles.

Although the Court generally likes to respect the autonomy of educational institutions, in some cases the Court might be willing to intervene in academic matters—especially if the university or educational institution does not comply with basic procedural fairness.

O. v. Law Society of Ontario, 2019 ONLSTH 155

In this case, O.O. applied for a licence to practice law in Ontario. His application was scrutinized due to past academic misconduct, including plagiarism incidents in 2006, 2008, and 2011 during his undegraduate years at university. These actions resulted in academic penalties which included suspension from the university and failing the courses.

Despite these issues, O.O. graduated from law school in England in 2012 and obtained a certificate of qualification in Canada. However, his application for a lawyer licence in Alberta was rejected in 2016 as a result of doubts about his “good character”. Subsequently, O.O. re-applied for a licence in Ontario, where the Law Society conducted a thorough investigation into his character.

During the hearing, O.O. expressed remorse for his past misconduct, attributing his actions to immaturity and personal challenges, including family health issues and experiences with fraud while studying abroad. He emphasized his rehabilitative efforts, supported by his family and church community, and presented character references attesting to his transformation and commitment to ethical conduct.

The Law Society Tribunal examined a number of factors, including the nature and duration of the misconduct, O. O. remorse, his rehabilitative efforts, any repeat findings of academic misconduct, his behaviour since the misconduct, and the passage of time. The Tribunal found that O. O. had matured, taken responsibility for his actions, and demonstrated good character through his rehabilitative efforts.

Ultimately, the Tribunal concluded that O. O. was presently of good character and should be allowed to complete the necessary qualifications to be granted a licence to practise law in Ontario. This decision emphasized the importance of rehabilitation and personal growth in the context of professional licensing.

This case shows that it is important to be mindful when speaking about one’s rehabilitative efforts after being found guilty of academic misconduct. As such, an experienced legal professional can help you discuss strategies to best demonstrate how you have demonstrated growth, remorse, and character development after the incident.

K. H. v. Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, 2022 ONCPA 15

In this case, the applicant K.H. applied for registration as a student with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario). The application was referred to the Admission and Registration Committee (ARC) to investigate if whether K.H. met the “good character” requirement due to significant past misconduct.

K.H.’s background included a conviction for possession of child pornography and multiple instances of academic misconduct. K.H. was arrested in March 2014 for possession of child pornography, with a significant amount of evidence found on K.H.’s laptop. During the criminal trial, K.H. lied under oath, in an attempt to to shift the blame onto his friends. K.H. was convicted in May 2017 and sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by probation until February 2021. K.H. was also required to register as a sex offender for ten years.

In addition to the criminal misconduct, K.H. committed three instances of academic dishonesty while enrolled in an accounting program at an Ontario university between 2019 and 2020. These incidents included unauthorized use of a test bank, use of a USB key during an exam, and unauthorized use of a cell phone during another examination. Despite receiving due process during the university’s disciplinary proceedings, K.H. consistently denied or minimized these actions, challenging the findings and processes involved.

While he did not want to admit his guilt, it is important to note that in this cases, owning up to one’s mistakes and demonstrating remorse can be seen as a positive factor when determining an individual’s good character.

At the ARC hearing, K.H. presented evidence of remorse and rehabilitation efforts, including ongoing therapy and support from family and the church community. However, K.H.’s disclosures to CPA Ontario were incomplete, failing to fully disclose the academic misconduct incidents. K.H. attributed the failures to stress, misunderstanding of rules, and mental health struggles.

The ARC assessed K.H.’s character based on factors such as the nature and duration of the misconduct, remorse, rehabilitative efforts, conduct since the misconduct, and the time elapsed since the offences. Despite acknowledging K.H.’s rehabilitative efforts and support system, the ARC found that the serious nature of the criminal and academic misconduct, coupled with the incomplete disclosures and attempts to minimize past actions, must not be overlooked. These actions collectively indicated a lack of good character.

Ultimately, the ARC found that K.H. failed to demonstrate good character at the time of the hearing and denied the application for registration with CPA Ontario. This decision demonstrates the high ethical standards required for certain professions and the critical importance of honesty, full disclosure, and rehabilitation in the determination of whether an individual is of good character.

About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.