Student faces expulsion for Facebook group

Chris Avenir fights 147 academic misconduct charges for chemistry study group

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

If you think your secrets are safe on Facebook, think again.

One student at Ryerson University could face expulsion and a hefty stack of academic charges after university administration discovered a study group on the popular social networking site.

Chris Avenir, a first-year chemical engineering student at Ryerson, appeared in front of the Faculty of Engineering appeals committee yesterday in a 90-minute hearing to fight 147 charges of academic misconduct.

Avenir was an administrator for an online study group called “The Dungeon/Mastering Chemistry Solutions.” Students used the group to exchange study tips for homework questions, which counted for 10 per cent of their grade.

What appears to be administration’s smoking gun is text on the group’s main page, which read: “If you request to join, please use the forums to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted.”

A professor, who said assignments should be done independently, found the group, gave Avenir " a B student " an F and charged him with academic misconduct.

The committee is expected to decide on his punishment within five business days.

After the hearing, Avenir said, “I feel pretty confident and optimistic about the appeal meeting we just had.

“I don’t have any regrets about what happened inside.”

Kim Neale, student issues and advocacy co-ordinator for the Ryerson Student Union, represented Avenir during the appeal yesterday afternoon. She said there was no proof of actual solutions being posted.

Neale confirmed a print-out of the Facebook group description and a list of members was the only evidence presented.

“Do I think [Avenir] is guilty? Absolutely not.”

RSU president Nicole Loreto agreed.

“In no way does [the evidence] implicate Chris or each group member.”

Neale questioned how an online study group was different from an old-fashioned library study session. “Why can’t we use new, innovative techniques to study?”

Fourth-year health science student at Western Jason Ferreira said he occasionally studies using MSN Messenger. “Sure I’m on MSN. I’ll say ‘What did you get for this question,’ or ‘I got this.’”

Ferreira admitted he had not used Facebook to study, but he saw no problem with using the social networking program as an academic tool.

“The school uses [online forums], so why can’t we? There’s even chat rooms on WebCT, so what’s the difference?” Ferreira said.

Some Ryerson students have started a Facebook group to stop administration from punishing students for actions taken online.

The group entitled “Stop the NADS,” which stands for non-academic disciplinary suspension, claims the university is in the final stages of passing new policies targeting Facebook offences.

Although Neale and Loreto could not speculate about the outcome, both assured Avenir committed no academic offence.

“We’re firm in the belief that this case should be closed,” Loreto said. “But we have to wait a week to find out the results.”

“We are optimistic the university will make the right decision,” Neale added.

"With files from the Canadian Press

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