PHOTO BY: JESS TSANG

Ryerson’s most wanted

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If you’ve ever taken a Ryerson class, chances are you’ve heard all about academic integrity. But what happens to students who walk the line between integrity and expulsion? Cormac McGee explores Ryerson’s criminal side

It was late August and Kyle* was working at the Leon’s Furniture Canada head office. It was a decent part-time job in customer service and it allowed him to save up some money for his second year at Ryerson. During a phone call with a particularly dull customer, the second-year business management student decided to check his email and saw one from a Ryerson accounting professor. Clicking on it, he couldn’t believe what it said.

He began to get nervous, his voice wavered as he spoke to the customer: he was being charged with academic misconduct.

In June, Kyle had posted an ad on the free classifieds site Kijiji offering to sell test banks (collections of possible questions that could be asked on an exam) for various courses at Ryerson. He didn’t create the test banks, but simply downloaded them off Facebook and re-posted them for sale to make some extra money over the summer.

“I honestly had no idea it was against policies,” Kyle wrote in an email. “Everyone sells test banks, so I thought it was fine. Professors would even hint at getting test banks to help for the exams.” But the university disagreed. Kyle met with the accounting professor and a facilitator from Ryerson’s Academic Integrity Office, who grilled him as to why he decided to sell the test banks and where he found them. They also explained that he could be suspended or even expelled, all because he tried to make a few bucks.

“In cases where a student has received two [disciplinary notices], the Academic Integrity Council will normally convene an automatic hearing to consider possible disciplinary suspension of the student,” writes Giselle Basanta, director of the Academic Integrity Office, in an email. “In those rare cases where a student has received three, the council may consider imposing a disciplinary withdrawal or expelling the student from the University.”

We all hear of test banks being sold and traded around school and they can present a bit of a grey area for students. Is it really cheating if you’re just looking at possible questions? Ryerson administration seems to think so.

The university lifestyle can definitely be a very stressful one. As the work piles up and deadlines get closer and closer, the opportunity to cut corners can be tempting, especially when it will free up a couple of hours for sleep or relaxation.

But if Ryerson is watching online for something as minor as selling test banks, the question comes to mind – what else are they looking out for? At Ryerson, the policies surrounding academic integrity and misconduct are formulated by the Senate – a body of 51 elected representatives made up of faculty, librarians, students and alumni, as well as 18 members of the administration who are included because of the positions they hold at the university.

They are in charge of the Student Academic Code of Conduct, which is currently under its annual review.

Under the code, there are six basic types of academic misconduct that you can be charged with.

The first is violating specific departmental or course requirements, which any professors can add to their course outlines to ensure academic integrity. Next is violating departmental policies on professional behaviour, so try to keep yourself calm, cool and professional in class.

The third possible charge is for unauthorized copying or use of copyrighted materials. This one is pretty simple – don’t use a large portion someone’s professional work without asking them. Then there’s the damaging, tampering or interfering with the scholarly environment charge. This covers two rules: don’t mess with other students’ work or your professor’s materials.

The fifth infraction you can be charged for is contributing to academic misconduct. While it’s easy to say we shouldn’t send our work to friends because it isn’t fair that they get to just copy off us, it’s now seen as a serious misconduct.

The final charge that can be laid against you is academic dishonesty.

This is by far the most common charge because it covers a wide range of the most tempting offences, including: plagiarism, cheating, misrepresenting your personal identity or performance and submitting false information.

While these are the infractions written in the policy, the Senate makes it clear this is not an exhaustive list. So, don’t think you’re safe just because you’ve thought of something ingenious that’s not on here.

There are, then, four basic punishment types when charged with academic misconduct. The least severe, and most common, is receiving a disciplinary notice on your academic record. It stays on until you graduate (or until you hit eight years in your program, whichever comes first) and usually comes with a supplementary punishment, like the essay Kyle had to write.

The next step up is a disciplinary suspension, where the Senate Appeals Committee decides on how long you will be banished from Ryerson.

This can be anywhere from one term to two years. Once you’ve served your sentence, you are automatically reinstated into your program.

The third rung on this ladder is a disciplinary withdrawal, where you can’t take any classes at Ryerson for two years. After this period, you are not allowed back into your program but can apply to any other one.

The final and most extreme punishment is expulsion. This is pretty straightforward – hit the showers early kid, you’re outta here.

“Expulsions are extremely rare,” writes Basanta. “Very few students have been expelled from Ryerson and only for what I would assume to be the most egregious examples of academic misconduct.” Unfortunately, according to the Academic Integrity Office, Ryerson does not publish its suspension or expulsion statistics.

After you’ve been charged with an offence you will have a meeting with a professor and/or someone from the Academic Integrity Office for a chance to plead your case before a decision is made.

Third year new media student Stacy* was sitting in a meeting like this just over a year ago, at the end of her second semester at Ryerson.

Her professor for her intro to media for experience design course accused her and her group mates of copying a code to create their final project, a short electronic game.

“He showed us another code that was a slight variation on the one we had created. He though we stole it,” she explains. “The two codes coincidentally had the same structure but that was it. We knew we didn’t steal the code.” But their protests could not convince the professor, and they were all charged with violating the Academic Code of Conduct. They each received a zero on the assignment and a Disciplinary Notice on their records.

“I’ve never had anything on my record, so it was really upsetting,” says Stacy. “But we were so relieved we didn’t fail the course that we decided to just move on.” Five excruciatingly long days after he was charged, Kyle learned he would not be kicked out of school. The Academic Integrity Office sympathized with his apparent ignorance, and handed down a less severe punishment.

He had to take an academic integrity quiz, retrying until he achieved a perfect score, and then write an 800-word essay on personal integrity and ethics – a pretty light punishment for his infraction.

“In cases where there is a finding of academic misconduct, the minimum penalty assigned by an instructor is an integrity tutorial or workshop,” Basanta writes. “Then the spectrum moves to a recommendation for disciplinary suspension, withdrawal or expulsion.” Kyle will also have a Disciplinary Notice placed on his academic record until he graduates, showing that he has been charged with a misconduct. If he ever gets in trouble again, the punishment is guaranteed to be much more severe.

Kyle is also ready to move on. He’s just relieved it’s over and while he’s not happy with the disciplinary notice, he knows it could have been a lot worse.

A quick Google search for “Ryerson test banks” brings up a handful of Facebook groups, Kijiji and Craigslist posts, a blog and even a sub-topic on Reddit boasting to have all the answers. It’s probably just a matter of time before the people behind them receive an email from the Academic Integrity Office.

* names have been changed

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