Ryerson panel delays ruling in Facebook cheating controversy

A first year Ryerson University student was greeted by supporters as he left a hearing to determine his academic future, while the panel convened to hear his case will announce it’s decision in five days.

Chris Avenir speaks to the press after his hearing at Ryerson University.
Chris Avenir speaks to the press after his hearing at Ryerson University.

Chris Avenir, 18, has been charged with academic misconduct and faces expulsion for taking part in an on-line study group. The Facebook group was called ‘Dungeons Mastering Chemistry Solutions’ and members of the group helped each other with homework tips for a chemistry class.

“I have never seen anyone charged with expulsion before, this is the most extreme thing I’ve ever witnessed,” president of the student union Nora Loreto said. “There is absolutely no proof that Chris did anything wrong.”

There are 147 members in the on-line group but Avenir is the only one being charged with misconduct because he was an administrator. The creator of the group used a fake name and nobody knows what his real identity is.

Avenir is being charged with one count of misconduct for himself and 146 more counts for every member that joined the group. He was represented at the hearing by Kim Neale, the student union’s advocacy co-coordinator and was accompanied by his lawyer, mother and sister.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing, it is expected the issue will eventually end up before the university’s Senate.

The teacher of the class had told students that the work for the class was to be done individually. When it was discovered that students were sharing homework tips, the teacher considered it cheating.

Loreto said that there were no answers that were actually posted, only suggestions as to how to figure out the answers. She also said that a lot of the questions to the answers that were put on-line were already in their textbooks. Avenir had never actually posted anything on the webpage himself.

James Norrie, director and associate professor of the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management said that society needs to think about whether it wants to hold people accountable for their on-line behaviour.

‘We are explicitly clear …’

“We are explicitly clear about what does and does not constitute academic conduct. Using Facebook in and of itself or any electronic tool does not constitute misconduct, this story is not about that,” Norrie said. “This story is really about whether or not we used technology appropriately to enable learning.”

Norrie said that Ryerson is very supportive of students using on-line tools to help them study but says the code of conduct is very clear, and students need to be aware of whether the work given by the teacher is supposed to be done individually or not.

He says that there is not a different standard for conduct on-line. Many students disagree and feel that Avenir is being treated unfairly.

First year hospitality student Adriana Mazzone, 18, said that it feels like Ryerson is invading the privacy of the students. She doesn’t like it that they monitor what students are doing on-line.

“Have you ever read the book 1984? It’s the same thing; you’re in the privacy of your own home and Ryerson is there!” Mazzone said.

Shannon Scott, 18, Avenir’s girlfriend of 11 months and a first-year hospitality student at Ryerson, agrees.

“They weren’t sharing answers, they were simply sharing tips on how to figure out the answers to the questions. It’s no different than having face-to-face study groups in the library or something,” Scott said.

Scott said that Avenir is a hard-working student and would never cheat. It makes her angry that he’s worked so hard while he’s been at Ryerson and now they may be able to take his whole future away for something he believes he didn’t do.

“Students study in groups and until Ryerson makes that illegal, I don’t think there’s a case here.” Loreto said.

“I feel pretty confident and optimistic about the appeal hearing that we did have,” Avenir said after the hearing was over. “I don’t have any regrets about what happened inside the room.”