PROFS’ ERRORS PUT STUDENTS IN HOT WATER

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By Carmen Chai

Ryerson’s ombudsperson says professors’ mistakes are responsible for the mounting number of academic misconduct charges.

Simple errors and inconsistencies — such as using different methods for citing papers from one class to another — are causing students to mistakenly get charged with plagiarism and cheating.

The revelation comes in the 2006-2007 Report of the Ombudsperson, presented to the school last month, which notes a 54 per cent increase in complaints to the office concerning charges of academic misconduct.

The report notes that this increase is likely due to more professors laying charges against their students, often incorrectly.

“It is troubling that 30 per cent of the complaints …were solely because of a procedural error with respect to how the charge was laid or the matter was adjudicated,” read the report, compiled by Ombudsperson Nora Farrell.

But Diane Schulman, secretary of Senate, said she doesn’t believe Farrell’s statistics represent “a whole lot of students.”

“I don’t know what kind of procedural mistakes she’s talking about,” she said, refusing to comment further.

Heather Kere, VP of Education of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), has worked with students unfairly charged by the school.

“Students are genuinely concerned and they are surprised and scared about what’s happened when a lot of the time the charges could’ve been easily rectified.”

In some cases, students have missed out on co-op placements because grades weren’t electronically transcribed correctly, she said.

There are hundreds of examples of procedural errors, including technological, content and marking errors.

“It could be unfair standards between one professor to the next when it comes to citing sources,” said Nora Loreto, President of the RSU and a former appeals chairwoman.

Cultural barriers in comprehending assignments and rules are also a concern, she said.

“There are a ton of problems with how students are treated in this university and this is shown with the number of appeals students have made,” she said.

Since she released the report, Farrell says many people have contacted her to offer solutions to the problem.

Her report suggests the school should educate faculty on how to charge students fairly, and Loreto agrees.

“Professors are overworked. If you’ve got a lot of work, sometimes you’re adding marks wrong or you don’t have time so you’re overlooking policies,” she said.

Kere said a professor’s first step is to meet with a student with their paper unmarked if they are suspicious of academic misconduct. “They need to be accessible to professors during a time when a lot of charges are about to be made, like after midterms or exams.”

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