Letter of reprimand and follow-up responses

July 18, 2007

Dear Professor Cooperstock,

I am writing purusant to our meeting of July 5, 2007 called under section 9.6 o the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff. You were accompanied by your advisor [advisor], and I by Professor [advisor to the Senior Faculty Administrator], who acted as my advisor.

As indicated in my letter of July 4, 2007, the meeting was to allow you to provide me with relevant information with respect to the charge that your possible disclosure to a third party of personal and confidential information regarding a student or student(s) was in violation of article 31 of Charter of Student Rights and article 91 of Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures. During this meeting, which lasted approximately one half hour, I asked you a number of questions, but you chose not to respond. You did not deny the charge nor did you provide any information to explain or mitigate your actions.

I have no choice but to confirm that you have indeed breached the provisions of the above noted Charter and Code and that a disciplinary measure is warranted. A copy of the email from [reporter, newspaper] is attached.

As a tenured member of the academic staff, with full teaching responsibilities, you have an obligation to inform yourself of the rights of the students who attend this University. That you may or may not have been aware fo the provisions of the Charter and Code, does not exonerate you. Even without the provisions of the University regulations, basic respect for the privacy of the individuals involved would have required your discretion. You knew, or should have known, that your actions were inappropriate. I find this behaviour inexcusable.

This letter is a letter of reprimand in accordance with article 9.7 of the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff and will remain in your file for a period of five years.

Yours sincerely,

[Senior Faculty Administrator]

On my behalf, my advisor drafted the following letter of response.

August 24, 2007

Dear [Senior Faculty Administrator]

I have received your letter of reprimand pursuant to Section 9.7 of the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff. I would like to respond to some of the points you raised and have this letter appended to yours in my file.

You noted that you had a meeting with me on July 5, 2007 in which you asked a number of questions and that I chose not to answer. There were reasons for this lack of response, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. You convoked a hearing within less than 24 hours of sending me a letter alleging that I breached policies taken from the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, but without any specific information. This left very little time for me to understand the nature of the allegations against me.
  2. This problem was compounded by the fact that, while you said you had documentary evidence to support the charge, you refused to let me see this. You declined even to state the name of the person outside the University to whom I was alleged to have spoken. I was informed by my advisor that I had an absolute right to see this documentation before responding, this right being conferred by the same legislation that I was alleged to have violated.
  3. It is by no means certain that the provisions taken from the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures apply to me for a variety of reasons. The second provision (Article 91) clearly refers to the obligations on the Dean of Students regarding disclosure of information from the disciplinary file in his/her office. I have no access to such a file or even knowledge that one exists in this specific case. The first provision (Article 31 of the Charter of Student Rights) states the 'the University' will not disclose information to a third party. While we are all members of the University, its use in this context clearly refers specifically to those administrators, academic and non-academic, who have administrative responsibilities in a certain area. This is clear from its distinctive use, for example, in Section 9.3 of Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff. University employees are governed by these Regulations in the case of academic staff and the collective agreement in the case of many non-academics, not the Charter of Student Rights.
  4. The background of this case was my long-standing complaint about the Faculty of Engineering administration regarding cases of alleged plagiarism from one of my courses. Since my complaint was partially concerning the handling of the matter by the [Senior Faculty Administrator], I was uncomfortable with you acting as the judge in this matter (nemo debet esse iudex in propria causa). I believe the matter should be judged by a neutral party.

Therefore I declined to respond until these matters had been clarified and I had been provided with the appropriate documentation. I would have responded at the meeting, or a subsequent one, if I had been given the documentation and had the allegation been framed in terms of everyone's obligation to conform to the Act respecting Access to Documents held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information. However, you chose to send a letter of reprimand without further hearings. To this you attached an email from [reporter], which I assume is the documentary evidence to which you referred. I am grateful to have finally received this without having to make an access to information request.

I do not feel the hearing you convoked accorded me a proper right to reply consonant with the dictates of natural justice. However, with the [reporter's] email, I am more aware of your concerns and can now at least reply to the accusations. I did not tell [reporter] the names of these students nor knowingly give them to her in other fashion. However, in reviewing the documentation to which I did give her access, I realize that these names were not removed in certain instances. I must therefore take responsibility for unwittingly divulging nominative information to a party outside the University. For this reason I have decided not to grieve against the letter of reprimand despite the procedural irregularities and the fact that I transgressed unknowingly.

As you must be aware throughout this whole episode, my overarching concern has been for academic integrity in the Faculty. I presented the [Faculty Administrator] with what I consider totally conclusive proof of plagiarism of one student from another in two separate instances. I was assured that the matter would be pursued and given the word of my Department Chair that no change to the grade would be made without my consent. I subsequently discovered that the student whose work was clearly derivative had been exonerated and that furthermore other changes had been made to ensure a passing grade in the course. I have never received a satisfactory explanation for this and I remain extremely concerned about the question of academic integrity. I attempted for months to get a response, including requesting meetings with you, the [Faculty Administrator], and the [University Administrator]. I received an email from you that stressed the faculty's concern with academic integrity but that did not address my specific concerns. Since neither you nor your secretary ever offered me a time to meet with you to discuss these concerns, I subsequently contacted the [University Administrator], [University Administrator], and, later, the [University Administrator] -- in all cases with no satisfaction or even advice on how to get the matter addressed. It was therefore because all my internal attempts failed that I approached the press in desperation. I still believe fundamentally that we must address the issue of academic integrity rather than simply paying the concept lip-service. Professors need to know, should a student be exonerated after an allegation of plagiarism, that the matter had been handled appropriately and that the reasons for the exoneration were at least justifiable if not justified. Otherwise it is impossible to attempt to maintain standards and pointless to allege plagiarism.

While I accept the letter of reprimand for my unwitting act, I still do not feel the general issue has been satisfactorily addressed. I do not understand why the student was exonerated or, as far as I can tell, why the matter was not even brought before the Committee on Student Discipline. The evidence, in two separate instances with the same students, was overwhelming both times. I would like to know why it was apparently considered insufficient to proceed to a hearing. I must regretfully inform you that this is not a matter that I intend to let drop since the stakes are very high for all of us, students and professors alike.


Professor Jeremy R. Cooperstock

cc: Academic Personnel, Human Resources
[University Administrator]
[Senior University Administrator]

Last update: August 24, 2008
by Jeremy Cooperstock