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Former Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence in Toronto, July 25, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Former Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence in Toronto, July 25, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Former TDSB head to face academic charges over thesis Add to ...

The former leader of Canada’s largest school board, who resigned amid allegations of plagiarism, has been charged with “academic offences” dating back to his time as a graduate student at the University of Toronto, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Chris Spence, who was director of education of the Toronto District School Board, is scheduled to appear before a university tribunal in July to defend himself against charges that he plagiarized parts of his 1996 PhD dissertation. In a letter to Dr. Spence Tuesday, the university stated that the hearing would be adjudicated by a legally qualified chair, a student member and a faculty member.

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The university initiated an investigation into Dr. Spence’s dissertation after explosive revelations of plagiarism pertaining to everything from his personal blog to newspaper opinion pieces began piling up.

Dr. Spence resigned as director of the TDSB in January, 2013.

His lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, said in an interview Tuesday that it has been more than a year since the plagiarism allegations were made public, and Dr. Spence has since resigned.

“We’re going to argue that these allegations should be thrown out because it’s an abuse of process,” Mr. Pieters said. “Inordinate delay of more than a year has prejudiced Dr. Spence in terms of his rights to seek suitable employment and obtain suitable employment.”

The accusations of plagiarism first surfaced when a Toronto Star reader alerted the newspaper that an article written by Dr. Spence appeared to be plagiarized. The Star investigated, and Dr. Spence confessed to copying the work of others in an opinion piece. That drew attention to his other work, including his blog at the TDSB.

In the charges outlined by the University of Toronto, the institution stated that Dr. Spence “knowingly represented the ideas of another, or the expressions of the ideas of another as your own work” in his thesis titled “The Effects of Sport Participation on the Academic and Career Aspirations of Black Male Student Athletes in Toronto High Schools.” The university stated in the document that Dr. Spence submitted his thesis without properly attributing the work to the original source.

“By submitting the Thesis, you knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation ... to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage,” the document stated.

Dr. Spence did not respond to an e-mail on Tuesday.

The Globe and Mail found that passages from Dr. Spence’s 1996 dissertation appear copied from unattributed sources, and one section relies heavily on a 1991 book edited by Grant Jarvie, Sport, Racism and Ethnicity.

In his bibliography, Dr. Spence listed the chapter of the book that his work resembles, but did not credit the author in the passage, and used the citations as his own, The Globe found.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail last July, Dr. Spence said he accepted responsibility for the plagiarism that led to his departure from the TDSB, but also said his research assistants are partly to blame for the unattributed material. He said he came forward to selected media outlets at the time as part of a healing process, and to slowly rebuild his reputation and return to the education field.

“I want to be in education. I’m an educator and that's what I want to get back to doing,” he said.

Dr. Spence was often described as an inspirational, charismatic leader, who had a natural ability to connect with students. He was wooed to the TDSB in 2009 from the Hamilton-Wentworth school board, where he was director. During his time at the TDSB, he first proposed the idea of a boys’ academy as part of a strategy to help struggling students and he was a key advocate for the board's first Africentric school.

With files from Simona Chiose

Follow on Twitter: @calphonso

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