Reports

The Student Rights Centre publishes reports and campaigns as needed outlining the Centre’s most important observations on systemic issues affecting U of O students.

September 2017 Faculty Grade Report

The Student Rights Centre (SRC) has observed that each faculty (or school) of the University is quite different in the way it treats students and their right to advocacy. The SRC awarded a grade to each faculty based on various considerations, including:

 

 

Here is our list of grades for the Faculties with explanations for each grade:

The Faculty of Education, more than any other faculty, has adopted a pedagogical approach to cases of alleged academic fraud. They have used these cases not only as genuine opportunities for students to understand referencing requirements, but also as opportunities for professors to improve their instructions and evaluation methods.

The Faculty has shown openness to discussion regarding students’ requests. It has also shown great respect for the advocacy role of the Student Rights Centre (SRC) while maintaining open lines of communication with our office and with students.

The dean, vice deans, and program directors are accessible to students and will meet with them upon request.

The Faculty of Science has shown excellent outreach and support for students who are at risk of facing a mandatory withdrawal from a program or from the Faculty.

It is open to communication with the SRC and its clients, and has shown an openness to redress problematic situations.

It has also shown compassion in decision making. In academic fraud cases, its decisions are fair and supplemented with an explanation.

The dean and vice dean are accessible to students and will meet with them upon request.

Recently, the Faculty of Arts has been an example in excellence and openness to change. It provides detailed decisions in cases of academic fraud, shows a willingness to comply with university policies, and an understanding of the realities faced by international students.

This faculty has been a leader in thinking outside of the box to find solutions for students who face difficulties.

It is responsive to requests from students and the SRC. The dean and vice deans are accessible to students and will meet with them upon request.

Unfortunately, this was not always the case. We believe that important changes in leadership within the Faculty have led to these positive changes. Some departments and personnel continue to cause problems for students, however, so we grant an A–.

The Civil Law Section of the Faculty of Law has kept open lines of communication with the SRC and shown great respect for our advocacy role. It has shown fairness in decision making and a willingness to collaborate to resolve any problem that may arise.

The Section has also shown good outreach to students facing academic difficulties or who are at risk of mandatory withdrawal.

Both the dean and assistant dean are accessible and regularly meet with students upon request.

However, despite numerous advocacy attempts, our case history shows that the Civil Law Section holds the firm position that it does not grant requests for retroactive drops. Retroactive drops allow a student to remove past courses from their transcript. Other faculties routinely award retroactive drops when a student can demonstrate that there are valid, documented grounds to support the request. The most common examples are cases where students were unaware that their academic pursuits were affected by a previously undiagnosed disability. These requests therefore constitute requests for retroactive accommodation, which is a human rights issue. For this reason, we can only award the Section a B+.

The extremely long delays in communication with students and the SRC, especially at the undergraduate level, were a major consideration in attributing the Faculty of Engineering’s grade.

Some members of the Committee on Academic Standing have been disrespectful toward students or asked questions that showed a lack of understanding of the realities faced by students with disabilities. Furthermore, very little notice is given to students when they are invited to a hearing with the Committee on Academic Standing (in one case, less than 1 business day), which impedes their ability to prepare and to seek representation.

Despite these concerns, there are various members of the administration at the undergraduate and graduate levels that have shown fairness in decision making. Furthermore, the Vice Dean of Undergraduate Studies is responsive and accessible to students and will meet with them upon request.

The Common Law Section of the Faculty of Law boasts clear and detailed academic regulations. However, the SRC has concerns related to undue demands for disclosure of medical information requested in these regulations. Indeed, the Common Law Section’s academic regulations request that students asking to defer their examinations for medical reasons provide a medical certificate which “sets out in sufficient detail the medical condition affecting the student.” In 2014, the SRC emailed the Common Law Section to draw attention to this breach of students’ rights. Since then, we have followed up with the Section on ten separate occasions. The Common Law Section eventually assured us that the wording of the regulation would be modified. As this grade report is made public, the academic regulations have not yet been changed. We question why a faculty that prides itself on allowing access to students who face systemic barriers has chosen to ignore this blatant breach of student rights for so many years.

In a similar vein, many Common Law students have complained of the difficulties they faced in obtaining accommodation for their disability. The fact that some careers within the legal profession are fast-paced and require long working hours has sometimes been used as a reason to deny requests for accommodation. These are not valid reasons to deny requests for accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Furthermore, students may choose to attend the Common Law Program with other career aspirations.

In the context of the accelerated process for handling allegations of academic fraud, the Faculty has routinely pre-determined the sanction it would impose prior to meeting with the student and hearing their explanation. This is against the spirit of Academic Regulation I-14 which states that meetings under the accelerated process are an opportunity to discuss the situation.

The Section also forces its professors to grade students within pre-determined guidelines, which has led to some complaints from students.

On the plus side, the administration has shown a willingness to meet with students upon request.

The Faculty of Social Sciences gets an E because of its sometimes punitive, paternalistic, and even downright traumatic Committee of Inquiry meetings regarding cases of academic fraud at the undergraduate level. The SRC has often had to request that the Faculty abide by the university regulation on academic fraud, as they have continually breached it in various ways. For example, the Faculty argued with the SRC that students were not entitled to 10 business days to prepare their defence, even though the regulation on academic fraud clearly outlines this right.

The accuracy of the information provided to students and to the SRC is also in question, as we discovered that one faculty administrator provided false information on at least two occasions, all the while misapplying university regulations when denying students’ appeals.

The Faculty’s undergraduate office sometimes makes use of an auto-reply indicating that they will not respond to any emails, and staff routinely leave their voicemail boxes full, making it unacceptably difficult for students to communicate with the Faculty. Students report having difficulty obtaining a meeting with an academic advisor and face lengthy delays before obtaining a decision regarding their appeals.

The Faculty avoids an outright F because some of its personnel has maintained open lines of communication with the SRC, and because its Graduate Studies Office has shown openness to change when it breached university policy.

The Faculty of Health Sciences has been the emblem of a problematic faculty for years. One example includes a past Health Sciences member of the Senate Appeals Committee who breached this Committee’s confidentiality policy by sharing what had been discussed during a hearing with her colleagues. The Program Directors in Nursing, and Interdisciplinary Health are unilingual, and students have complained of their inability to express their grievances in the language of their choice to a director who will understand them.

Furthermore, the Faculty routinely misapplies the policy on grade revisions. When the SRC brought these breaches to the Faculty’s attention, it either denied doing so, or told students to appeal their case to the Senate Appeals Committee.

Recently, the Faculty reviewed its appeal procedures: without informing students, it struck the level of appeal at the Office of the Vice Dean and replaced it with the possibility of appealing to one’s own School. This removed the distance from the original decision makers that is often key to obtaining justice in a university setting.

Furthermore, the dean is inaccessible and holds the position that she does not meet with students.

In two cases, the Faculty’s formal written comments to the Senate Appeals Committee included blatantly false information.

Ironically, the Faculty sometimes shows disbelief of students’ medical conditions.

Finally, appeals to the School of Nursing Appeal Committee have incredibly low success rates, and students’ testimonies appear not to be taken as seriously as those of professors.

The Telfer School of Management has shown extreme reluctance to communicate with the SRC and to allow us to advocate for students. This was not always the case, but most unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse in 2016-2017.

In January 2017, the School changed its re-deferral policy to no longer allow more than two deferrals for one exam, offering instead a retroactive drop for the course. This meant students had to retake (and pay again for) the course in which they had valid medical grounds to request a re-deferral. The School implemented this new re-deferral policy without informing students ahead of time.

The SRC asked on numerous occasions for the School’s Appeal Committee decisions to inform students of their right to appeal further to the Senate Appeals Committee (SAC), the highest level of appeal within our university. Providing this information is essential because many students are unaware that they have a right to appeal their case beyond their faculty. Furthermore, the University ombudsman and the SAC itself have recommended that all faculty decisions include information regarding this right of appeal. Despite this, the Telfer School of Management informed the SRC that it will not systematically inform students of their right to appeal, and will decide on a case by case basis which students will receive this information. The lack of willingness to inform students of their right to appeal speaks volume to the culture of the School.

The School also failed to implement a Senate Appeals Committee decision, despite its being binding.

Furthermore, whereas faculties have 10 business days once they receive an allegation of academic fraud from a professor to inform the student of the allegation, the School routinely waits far beyond the time allotted to communicate with the student in question. Despite these delays, the School informs students of its recommendations and decisions without providing any rationale.

Most seriously, the SRC is aware of two Telfer School of Management professors committing blatant plagiarism in their course material. These same professors have accused students of plagiarism for minor infractions of tenuous merit. When we asked the upper administration to investigate, their official response was a defence of the School’s actions on grounds so shaky that it brings disrepute to the University. This case establishes the double standard that too often reigns on our campus, and is an example of how unresponsive and unjust the administration can be. We are making all documents public to shed light on this egregious case.

We do not have sufficient cases to award a grade to the Faculty of Medicine. However, we have seen a few very concerning cases over the years. To be continued.

 

Past Reports

 

2008 Public Report – Mistreatment of Students, Unfair Practices and Systemic Racism at the University of Ottawa

2007 Public Report