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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)

TDSB director resigns over plagiarism, PhD dissertation includes unattributed passages Add to ...

Chris Spence has resigned as head of Canada’s largest school board after a cascade of plagiarism allegations.

The education director of the Toronto District School Board stepped down Thursday, effective immediately, the board chairman said in a terse statement.

Mr. Spence did not respond Thursday to repeated requests for an interview. In a statement released after his resignation was announced, he made no specific reference to the numerous examples of his work that appear to have relied heavily on the words of others.

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The Globe and Mail has learned that parts of Dr. Spence’s dissertation, submitted in 1996 for his Ph.D. from OISE appear to have been copied from unattributed sources. The 239-page dissertation is entitled “The Effects of Sport Participation on the Academic and Career Aspirations of Black Male Student Athletes in Toronto High Schools” and was partly based on interviews with student athletes and educators.

However, passages are substantially similar to prior work which Dr. Spence does not attribute, and rely very heavily, in one section, on a 1991 book edited by Grant Jarvie, Sport, Racism and Ethnicity.

In his bibliography, Dr. Spence lists the chapter in the book which his work resembles but does not credit the author in the passage in question. In omitting to acknowledge that he is quoting from a 1991 book, he also uses the original citations as his own. The reader has the impression that he has read and is summarizing the original and earlier literature, a key task of any successful dissertation.

On page 18, Dr. Spence writes: “Another view suggests involvement in sport has positive consequences for participants and society as a whole. Among the positive aspects associated with sport is its function as a transmitter of social values. Through athletic participation, it is argued, one learns not only how to play a specific sport, but also how to play the game of life (Snyder and Spreitzer 1989). Sport presumably transmits, among other values, the importance of hard work, character development and team work values that are complementary to those necessary for success in academic life. Sport, therefore, has been traditionally viewed as beneficial to the achievement of academic goals.”

The words appear almost exactly the same on the first page of a chapter by Othello Harris in the Jarvie book:

“One view of athletic participation suggests involvement in sport has positive consequences for participants and society as a whole. Among the positive consequences associated with sport is its function as a transmitter of social values. Through athletic participation, it is argued, one not only learns to play a specific sport but how to ‘play the game of life’ (Snyder and Spreitzer, 1983). Sport presumably transmits, among other values, the importance of hard work, character development and team work values that are complementary to those necessary for success in academic life. Sport, therefore, has been traditionally viewed as beneficial to the achievement of academic goals.”

Dr. Spence continues for one long paragraph in which he discusses the chances that a black high school football player will play for a “Division 1 college football team.”

The paragraph following is again almost identical to Harris’s chapter. Dr. Spence writes:

“Coleman (1961) expressed his concern that high schools give the appearance of being organized around sport rather than academics, as indicated by the visibility of symbols of athletic achievements (for example, displays of athletic trophies in school lobbies) and the relative invisibility of academic accomplishments (for example, an absence of displays of scholarly awards). It is significant to note that although Coleman’s concerns are dated (1961), little has changed in the appearance of how schools are organized. Furthermore, athletes are accorded higher status in high school than scholars. The notion of sport as a threat to academics has lead to the conceptualization of the athlete as an individual uninterested in academics. This stereotype encompasses the idea that time and energy spent on athletics is time and energy taken away from the pursuit of academic concerns, because athletic excellence requires an enormous amount of time and energy for practice and competition. This stereotype has given rise to the dominant ideology that athletes are poor students. The phrase ‘dumb jock’ is evidence of this stereotype.”

Harris wrote: “More recently, Coleman (1961) expressed his concern that high schools give the appearance of being organized around sport rather than academics as indicated by the visibility of symbols of athletic achievements (for example, displays of athletic trophies in school lobbies) and the relative invisibility of symbols of academic accomplishments (for example, an absence of displays of scholarly awards). Furthermore, athletes were accorded higher status in high schools than scholars or bright students as indicated by the backgrounds of members of the high schools’ leading crowds. This notion of sport as a threat to academics has led to the conceptualization of the athlete as an individual interested in athletics but not academics. This stereotype encompasses the idea that time and energy spent on athletics is time and energy taken away from the pursuit of academic concerns. Because athletic excellence requires an enormous amount of time and energy – for practices, team meetings, home and away games, time to reflect, etc. – university athletes have little time to spend refining their academic skills. This stereotype has given rise to the dominant ideology that athletes are poor students.”

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