Toronto’s top educator says sorry after admitting to plagiarism

TORONTO – Canada’s largest school board said Wednesday it will discuss whether to discipline its top educator after he admitted to plagiarizing parts of an opinion piece published in a major Toronto newspaper.

Toronto District School Board chair Chris Bolton said there has been some discussion within its ranks over Chris Spence’s admission, which he said came “as a great shock and a surprise.”

But the matter hasn’t been formally debated and Bolton said he didn’t know if board members would push for the director of education to resign.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss it with (the trustees) as a group and I need to get a sense of what they’re thinking to know how to go forward at this point,” he said.

Spence posted a letter on the board’s website Wednesday morning saying that as an educator, he “should know better” than to cite other people’s work without attribution — something he said happened five times in the op-ed he penned for the Toronto Star.

“I can provide excuses for how and why this happened – that I was rushed, that I was sloppy, that I was careless – but that’s all they would be: excuses,” he wrote.

“There is no excuse for what I did,” he added.

In the letter, he pledged to take “real and meaningful steps” to learn from and make up for his misbehaviour, including taking a journalism ethics class and ensuring his apology is permanently displayed.

Spence, who has been at the helm since 2009, noted students found to have plagiarized automatically receive a failing grade on the assignment — a minimum penalty he said isn’t nearly strict enough in his case.

But it’s unclear whether there will be consequences beyond his self-imposed penance.

“I think that Dr. Spence has put forward what he sees as being his own sort of specified personal program of discipline or re-education or whatever you want to call it,” Bolton said.

“But is that appropriate, is that enough? I don’t know,” he said.

The board planned to hold a meeting Wednesday night but Bolton said the agenda was already set in stone. He said there may be a chance to discuss the issue at the end, when trustees are allowed to introduce new business.

Spence’s article ran on Jan. 5 and focused on the importance of extracurricular activities, which have been cancelled in many schools due to the ongoing labour strife between teachers and the province.

The newspaper said the plagiarized material came from several sources, including a blog belonging to the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, an online encyclopedia and a 1989 New York Times op-ed.




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Toronto’s top educator says sorry after admitting to plagiarism

  1. How is it that these people who demand excellence from those around them are so easily enticed to cheat and steal someone else’s ideas and words? The dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Alberta did exactly the same thing a few years ago. What gulls me is that they never get punished to the degree that a student attending a university would…automatic expulsion for cheating.

    • Plagiarism is serious and students are usually given chances to correct their papers and most make the most of those opportunities. It is usually only the obstinate or serial offenders who receive the ultimate sanction. I personally like the way that Spence has responded to his offence, he has first of all owned up to it and then he has detailed a procedure by which he will ensure it will not happen again. Whether he sticks to the plan or reoffends remains to be seen.

      We could compare this response with the response of journalists who are guilty of committing exactly the same offence in a more egregious and persistent manner. Margaret Wente for the G&M is still loudly pontificating on points of ethical concern after barely a blip in her career, let alone anything resembling the public mea culpa we have seen from Spence. Then there is the weekly and almost daily offence of using material found on blogs without attribution or even a hat-tip by many an esteemed organ.

      Politicians repeatedly steal, lie and cheat but they are forgiven by the electorate in the name of party solidarity. They never even dream of admitting it let alone atoning for it.

      The offence should not be minimised at all, but the different responses by tall the guilty parties should be compared and all parties should change their attitudes towards the offence.

      • >> harebell said: Politicians repeatedly steal, lie and cheat

        Funny, it was Presbyterians that would lie, steal and cheat, according to my Nova Scotian grandmother. Us Anglicans would just drink and swear.

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