Avenir avoids expulsion, opens debate

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ryerson students and Facebook addicts can now breathe a sigh of relief.

On Tuesday, Ryerson University administration decided not to expel first-year engineering student Chris Avenir for a chemistry study group that discussed an independent homework assignment on the social networking website.

He faced expulsion after being charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct. Avenir was an administrator for a Facebook study group that discussed chemistry solutions.

Last week he appeared in front of the Faculty of Engineering appeals committee to fight the charges leveled against him.

That afternoon, Avenir received an email stating he would not be expelled, but would receive a grade of zero on the assignment " worth 10 per cent of his grade. The chemical engineering student will also have a disciplinary notice placed on his record, and must complete an academic integrity tutorial before the fall 2008 semester ends.

Kate Padyk, a fourth-year music student at Western, agreed with the ruling.

“Based on the number of people in the group, [146], I agree with the academic misconduct charges. But if it was just one or two people sharing answers, that’s not a big deal.”

While some feel Avenir has received appropriate punishment, Kim Neale, student issues and advocacy coordinator for the Ryerson Student Union, was not relieved by the decision.

“It’s disappointing,” Neale said. “The burden of proof should be on the university. [Administration] could not even determine whether misconduct occurred.”

To discourage academic offences from happening at Western, the Centre for New Students launched its own Facebook study groups.

Leslie Gloor Duncan, co-ordinator of university transitional programs, said the online study aids were a new addition to CFNS programming.

“Each year we work on co-ordinating study groups for first-year classes. One way to increase awareness of study groups and increase participants is to take the groups where the students are: Facebook.”

The Facebook forum called “Study Groups” boasts 847 members and includes several warnings about cheating and plagiarism.

“It was made clear early in this process that these sites would have notes on academic integrity and also the specific way in which this site was to be used,” Sonia Kalwaney, CFNS student co-ordinator, said.

“This case has reopened the dialogue on academic integrity and technology, which seems to come up every time a new technology becomes popular,” Kalwaney said.

Gloor Duncan recommended consulting a professor if students are unsure about Facebook and academic offenses.

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