The disgraced former leader of Canada's largest school board has been found guilty by his alma mater of plagiarizing parts of his PhD dissertation, with a recommendation that he be stripped of his degree.
An independent disciplinary tribunal at the University of Toronto found that Chris Spence, the former director of the Toronto District School Board, knowingly lifted and dropped paragraphs and sentences into his 1996 thesis.
The panel on Tuesday recommended that his PhD be "cancelled and recalled." It also recommended that the university expel Dr. Spence and a permanent notification be placed on his academic transcript.
Chair Bernard Fishbein said that the reasons behind the decision would be provided at a later date. The panel's recommendation on revoking Dr. Spence's doctor of education degree will be sent to the university's governing council.
Dr. Spence has 21 days to appeal after receiving the written decision.
He was not present at the hearing. His lawyer, Carol Shirtliff-Hinds, told the panel that Dr. Spence suffers from mental-health issues and had an anxiety attack on Monday. She said she did not receive instructions from Dr. Spence on how to proceed in the hearing and asked for an adjournment. The panel declined her request.
Dr. Spence resigned as education director of the TDSB in January, 2013, amid accusations of plagiarism.
In December, a discipline committee of the Ontario College of Teachers found him guilty of professional misconduct and his teaching certificate was revoked. This was the first time the college revoked a teaching certificate because of plagiarism.
At the U of T hearing, Robert Centa the lawyer for the provost, said he found 67 examples of plagiarism in Dr. Spence's thesis.
Mr. Centa said Dr. Spence edited plagiarized texts to "mask the fact that he was plagiarizing." Dr. Spence changed American spellings to Canadian spellings, for example, Mr. Centa argued. He lifted "many consecutive paragraphs" and dropped them into his thesis, Mr. Centa said.
Mr. Centa told the panel that Dr. Spence knew he was submitting plagiarized material and should have known it was "unacceptable."
"He should not be entitled to keep a degree he did not earn," Mr. Centa told the panel.
In a recent video statement, Dr. Spence admitted he did not give proper credit in some parts of his thesis, but said he was working full time and completing a film, so he may have been "reckless and careless."
"That's my work and I stand behind that work and I will vigorously defend that work," he said.
Dr. Spence has been working in Chicago for a social-service agency that helps struggling teenagers. He said he wants to teach again.
The school of graduate studies first brought the allegations of plagiarism against Dr. Spence to the provost's office in 2013, but the hearing has been mired in delays. Dr. Spence has changed lawyers and has rarely shown up, often citing medical reasons.
Mr. Centa said Dr. Spence has engaged in an "escalating series of tactics" to delay the hearing.
In the video in May, first released to The Globe and Mail, Dr. Spence said he has been disproportionately penalized and would be willing to reveal under oath who helped craft some of his writings.
Dr. Spence said while he has taken full responsibility for the articles and blog pieces that carried his name, copying the works of others was a result of "unintentional" and "reckless" mistakes. In the past, he has alluded to having help with his writing and he said in the statement that this assistance was the source of some of the material that led to allegations of plagiarism.
The TDSB said there is nothing in an agreement it signed with Dr. Spence that prevents him from revealing who helped him plagiarize published articles and public speeches.
The allegations first surfaced when a Toronto Star reader alerted the newspaper that an article by Dr. Spence appeared to have been plagiarized. That drew attention to his other work, including his blog at the TDSB.