Chris Spence is asking the University of Toronto to drop charges of plagiarism and academic dishonesty as he fights to keep his PhD.
Spence, the former director of the Toronto District School Board, who resigned in disgrace after plagiarized passages were discovered in newspaper articles he submitted, has been applying for executive-type jobs across Canada and the U.S. and with such charges hanging over him he’s having difficulty moving on, said his lawyer Selwyn Pieters.
“Dr. Spence’s entire future” rests on the outcome of these charges, he added.
Pieters said the case has dragged on for a year and a half and “we take issue with the delay.”
At Spence’s upcoming hearing July 15, Pieters will introduce a motion to throw out the charges. He said there has been an abuse of process because Spence’s thesis was run through commonly used plagiarism-detecting software turnitin.com without Spence’s consent, which violates university policy.
“Dr. Spence was charged in March 2013 with these academic offences and the first hearing he is getting is in July of 2014 and that’s at my insistence that this matter be (heard),” said Pieters.
Spence’s admission to plagiarizing newspaper articles “has nothing to do with his thesis in 1996 at U of T’s faculty of education, OISE. That’s a totally different matter.”
At the hearing, Spence will produce his original, handwritten thesis to show all works cited were properly credited, Pieters added.
“It is my understanding that he provided it to someone else to transcribe and there was some form of carelessness in terms of properly (attributing material) … there was no willfulness on Dr. Spence’s part,” which Pieters said the university must prove.
Spence stepped down from the top position at Canada’s largest school board early last year after accusations he did not credit other’s material in articles, blogs and other writings.
The university began its investigation into Spence’s thesis in January 2013 and charged him in March of that year.
The charges against him are of “knowingly representing the ideas of another, or the expressions of the ideas of another as your own work” in his thesis on sports, academics and career choices of black males.
“In the alternative, by submitting the thesis, you knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation” in his doctoral work, the university said.
If found guilty, Spence could be stripped of the degree.
In an interview with the Star last summer, Spence blamed the plagiarism in his published work on his ambition, heavy workload and also said the carelessness of a number of his assistants over the years.
He did not admit to knowingly using the words of others, including one example where he wrote about the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., where he relayed a conversation he had with his son. The words were near identical to those of writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.