In 2008 the Student Appeal Centre published a report which focused on the many injustices and unfair treatment faced by students accused of academic fraud. Numbers revealed that the majority of the students who had consulted the SAC to seek advice concerning accusations of academic fraud were visible minorities – some of whom had openly been targeted because of their ethnic origin. The SAC had warned President Allan Rock of the problem months before but his administration failed to address the problem.
When the SAC’s annual report came out the upper administration asked one of its common law professors and then Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Joanne St.Lewis, to conduct what they referred to as an “independent evaluation” of the SAC’s report. Joanne St.Lewis accepted and her evaluation was emailed to every single professor and student at the University.
Within the first few lines of her report, Joanne St.Lewis claims her independence and immediately qualifies our annual report as unsubstantiated, inflammatory and inconclusive. Joanne St.Lewis’ conclusion was that the data we had provided was too limited to support our conclusion of systemic racism. She indicated that “the entire analysis and its conclusion are based on less than 1% of the total university population” and that the SAC data was “too limited to enable any analysis”.
However, this conclusion did not deter the Administration from requesting that the SAC provide all of its confidential data to Joanne St.Lewis. In a letter dated March 24, 2009 the then Vice-President Academic Robert Major informed the SAC that Mrs. St.Lewis had been asked to conduct an independent systemic review of the student academic fraud appeals process and asked the SAC to collaborate with Mrs. St.Lewis namely by sharing all of its data. The SAC responded that the University was in possession of the integral data on academic fraud and that the only information the University could possibly obtain that it did not already have was the identity of the SAC’s clients.
In the summer of 2009 the SAC filed a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to obtain all communications regarding the Centre’s work. The documents obtained confirmed our concerns regarding Joanne St.Lewis’ independence from the administration and revealed the following:
The access to information documents show a close collaboration between the Administration and St.Lewis in elaborating the final report, in securing media access, and in dealing with media messaging. In addition, there is troubling evidence of a cover up of the lack of independence engineered by the President himself.
Joanne St.Lewis was an untenured professor charged with a high profile task and she elaborated her final report and her media work in communication with the Administration, yet she wrote in her report that her evaluation was “independent”. She knew or should have known that her high profile public report about racism in academic fraud appeals could not be characterized as independent.
The most troubling aspect of the St.Lewis exchanges with the Administration and their report is a total lack of admitting the possibility of the systemic racism or unequitable procedure indicated by the SAC report.
Since the publication of the 2008 SAC report the University has introduced an accelerated process for dealing with academic fraud cases. In cases eligible to the accelerate process, students who agree to recognize guilt, whether voluntary of involuntary, receive the guarantee that their case will be dealt with within fifteen business days. For students wishing to defend themselves via the regular process, the administration continues not to be bound by any time limit for dealing with the case. The SAC has observed many cases where students opt for the accelerated process although they believe to be innocent in order to avoid having to deal with further administrative delays.
Our most recent data concerning academic fraud continues to show that more than half the students who consulted the SAC concerning accusations of academic fraud are visible minorities.