In his written statement Thursday afternoon, Dr. Spence said: “I regret that I have not set a good or proper example for the many thousands of young people I’ve been privileged to meet and know.”
“I intend to continue to do the things I pledged to do - to restore my reputation, and to uphold the academic integrity I consider to be so important. But most importantly, to make amends for what I have done.
"I do not wish to be a further distraction to the Trustees, or my many friends and colleagues at the Toronto District School Board. I therefore submit my letter of resignation and, once again, offer my sincerest apologies."
Mr. Spence’s fall from grace began when a keen-eyed reader of The Toronto Star noticed that he appeared to have plagiarised a recent piece he did for them. The paper investigated and Mr. Spence admitted lifting material from five different sources.
That brought attention to his other work, including a blog he started writing in his professional capacity shortly after taking the TDSB job in 2009. In the blog, which disappeared from the TDSB site around the time his resignation was announced, he mixes inspirational advice with personal anecdotes. But a close read raises questions about several entries, including one of the most moving.
In an emotional entry written Dec. 17, Dr. Spence relates how he told his son about the massacre three days earlier in Newtown, Connecticut. He remembers how he put on his “calmest face” and told his child that “some people were killed. It’s very sad. But your school is safe. And I will do anything and everything to make sure you and your sister are always safe at school.”
This exchange is very similar to an account published on the 14th by a U.S. journalist. Aisha Sultan wrote, in a piece posted at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the afternoon of the shooting, that she put on her “calmest face” and told her son that “some people were killed. It’s very sad. But your school is safe. And I will do anything and everything to make sure you and your sister are always safe at school.”
In both cases, the two wrote, they then hugged their respective children.
Reacting to the plagiarism in the Star, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had called for stiff punishment, while noting that he is not “a fan” of Dr. Spence. The two have differences that go back to the mayor's winning campaign.
“He shouldn’t be plagiarizing, number one, and I think there should be major sanctions. And I’ll let [TDSB Chairman Chris] Bolton and the board decide on that,” he told reporters. “It’s pretty severe. He can’t be the director of education and plagiarizing, put it that way. It’s serious.”
Mr. Spence has apologized for plagiarizing in his Star article, but did not respond Thursday to requests for an interview to discuss numerous places where his blog contains material that has appeared elsewhere.
In one case, a message from Dr. Spence to graduating students in 2011 has passages that mimic addresses to students in Texas and Washington, D.C.
“But something in danger of being trampled in the stampede to the future is the delicate thread that draws us together as human beings,” Dr. Spence wrote in an entry posted June 27, 2011. “We surf the internet in multiple languages, yet never speak to the person next door. The news shows us suffering in the far reaches of the globe, yet we never notice the poverty in our own backyard. What good is crystal clear reception on your smartphone if you can’t hear the voice of your own conscience or your neighbour asking for help?”
There are only two differences – “the news” instead of “webcams” and “smartphone” instead of “Bluetooth” – between that and a 2006 commencement address to the University of Austin at Texas, posted online.
“But something in danger of being trampled in the stampede to the future is the delicate thread that draws us together as human beings,” Antonio Garza, then U.S. ambassador to Mexico, told students. “We surf the internet in multiple languages, yet never speak to the person next door. Webcams show us deprivation in the far reaches of the globe, yet we never notice the poverty in our own backyard. What good is crystal clear reception on your Bluetooth if you can’t hear the voice of your own conscience or your neighbor asking for help?”
In the same entry, Dr. Spence told students that to remember that they had not been “educated to be a bystander. You are not just a face in the crowd, forgotten by the powerful people passing by. YOU are one of those powerful people, and YOU will be watched, critiqued, criticized and complimented, and through all of those tests you will be held up as a role model and exemplar.”