University of Toronto -- Department of Computer Science

The procedures for handling academic offences

Here we describe briefly what happens during an investigation of an academic offence. The formal procedures are laid out in the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, so this informal summary doesn't tell you anything not available elsewhere.

Phase 1: Discovery

Often the first evidence that there might have been an academic offence is found by a teaching assistant marking the students' work, but sometimes the course instructor discovers it, perhaps with the help of code analysis tools. At any rate, the evidence is given to the course instructor; even if a TA was involved, he or she does not carry on the further investigation.

Phase 2: Interviewing the students

The next step is for the course instructor to interview the student or students involved. The instructor asks the TA to notify the students to contact the instructor, or the instructor may directly notify the students by e-mail, telephone, or paper mail.

The students may speak to the instructor individually or as a group. The instructor decides which is appropriate.

Often, students want to know what the penalty will be and what the further steps are. The Code of Behaviour specifies that the course instructor does not determine the penalties for an offence. Instructors will sometimes offer a guess as to what penalties are likely -- though they shouldn't -- but they cannot bind the department or the Dean to their guess.

Phase 3: Reporting to the department

If the instructor decides an offence seems to have occurred -- whether or not the students involved admit it -- then the next step is for the instructor to write a letter to the department Chair. In the Department of Computer Science, the Chair has delegated this role to the Undergraduate Coordinator, Dr. J. Clarke (who also happens to be the original author of this web site).

The letter to the Chair relates the facts of the case, including the outcome of the student interviews, and provides the instructor's opinion on whether an offence has actually taken place. The instructor may also make a recommendation on what penalty is appropriate.

Phase 4a: Disposition by the department

In some cases, where the students have admitted the offence and where it seems appropriate to impose a fairly light penalty, the department may handle the case itself. If you are one of the students involved in a case handled by the department, then you will receive a letter stating the apparent facts and inviting you to admit formally to an offence. You should respond quickly, so as to have the case settled in as short a time as possible.

Phase 4b: Disposition by the Dean's office

If the department cannot handle the offence internally -- for example, because the students have not admitted to it, or because a light penalty is not appropriate -- then the next stage is for the department to report the case to the Dean's office. If you are one of the students involved in such a case, then you will receive a letter stating the apparent facts and requiring you to contact the Dean's office for an appointment, or perhaps to admit formally to an offence. You should respond quickly, so as to have the case settled in as short a time as possible.

Meanwhile ...

While you are involved in an unresolved case involving an academic offence, you will not receive a mark in the course. Also, you may not withdraw from the course, and you will not be able to graduate. It is most important, therefore, for you to respond quickly to any communications such as letters, e-mail, etc.

How should you respond?

Suppose you've been asked to come to an interview with your instructor or with the Dean's representative for academic offences. How should you behave?

If you're preparing for an interview at the Dean's office, you'll get your best advice on this by contacting that office directly. But at every level, from the department to the highest tribunal, the most important advice is:

Tell the truth.

The people handling academic offences tend to respond well if you tell them what really happened. Very often the pressures of student life are obvious enough that sympathy for an offender is natural. You're not going to escape a penalty, but you will not be treated as a hardened criminal.