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Chris Spence, Director of Education, TDSB, briefs the media following a Resource Allocation Review meeting with trustees in Toronto on Dec. 6, 2012. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Chris Spence, Director of Education, TDSB, briefs the media following a Resource Allocation Review meeting with trustees in Toronto on Dec. 6, 2012. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Former TDSB chief agrees to co-operate with probe into disputed dissertation Add to ...

The former director of the Toronto District School Board has agreed to comply with a University of Toronto investigation into whether he plagiarized his graduate school dissertation, but stopped short of responding to the allegations.

In his first public statement since announcing his resignation on Thursday, Chris Spence asked for privacy for his family.

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“I am, however, aware of allegations with respect to other writings, including my 1996 PhD dissertation,” he wrote on Friday. “I want to assure the relevant parties that I intend to fully co-operate with any possible inquiry.”

Dr. Spence resigned on Thursday afternoon after allegations of plagiarism began piling up regarding sources as diverse as his doctoral thesis, his personal blog and his newspaper opinion pieces.

Debate over Dr. Spence’s severance package consumed most of a TDSB meeting on Friday, and the discussion was cut off before trustees could appoint an interim leader. “Monetary issues” dominated the session, board chair Chris Bolton said, because Dr. Spence “had some things he was entitled to, just as a teacher would.”

Dr. Spence will receive a payout of about $158,000, equal to seven months of his salary as director, according to a source.

Deputy director Donna Quan will carry on as acting director of the board until trustees meet on Monday to appoint an interim leader and start the search for Dr. Spence’s successor, who could be in place as early as mid-June.

Dr. Spence’s disputed dissertation, “The Effects of Sport Participation on the Academic and Career Aspirations of Black Male Student Athletes in Toronto High Schools,” was completed in 1996 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the U of T’s faculty of education. University spokesman Michael Kurts said U of T “takes academic integrity very seriously,” and “the matter is under review.”

Suspected plagiarism is governed by the university’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters and can result in a hearing before the university tribunal.

“Sanctions depend on the severity and circumstances of the offence,” Mr. Kurts said, and can range from “a reprimand” to “a recommendation to governing council for the recall or suspension of a degree granted to a graduate.”

In the past six years, the U of T has revoked six degrees, including four in 2007-2008, and expelled 75 students for a variety of academic offences. But OISE reported no cases of academic dishonesty in the same period.

New excerpts of Dr. Spence’s work that appear to be copied from others’ writing continue to surface. The final chapter of his dissertation contains a passage of more than 300 words that is nearly identical to one in a 1994 article by Naomi Fejgin entitled “Participation in High School Competitive Sports: A Subversion of School Mission or Contribution to Academic Goals?” and published in the Sociology of Sport Journal.

In part of that passage, on page 171, Dr. Spence wrote: “Participation in sports team [sic] requires adjustment to rigid rules, regulations and practice times, as well as the coach’s authority. Ongoing training of individuals to comply with these rules and to endure long hours of practice, while delaying the fulfillment of other physical and social needs teaches the importance of, and the rewards associated with, compliance, possibly making it easier to accept other school rules and formal authority. Furthermore, being on a school team means being recognized by the system as a ‘good citizen’ who participates in community life beyond basic requirements.”

A passage on page 224 of Dr. Fejgin’s work, which is not listed in Dr. Spence’s bibliography, reads: “Participation in sports teams requires adjustment to rigid rules, regulations, and practice times, as well as to the coach’s authority (Whitson, 1986). Ongoing training of individuals to comply with these rules and to endure long hours of practice, while delaying the fulfillment of other physical and social needs, teaches the importance of and the rewards associated with such compliance, possibly making it easier to accept other school rules and formal authority. Furthermore, being on a school team means being recognized by the system as a ‘good citizen’ who participates in community life beyond basic requirements.”

With a report from Simona Chiose

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