MANDEL: Disgraced former TDSB chief loses bid to reclaim PhD
February 26, 2019
February 26, 2019 7:55 PM EST
Chris Spence (Toronto Sun files)
As an educator himself, you’d think disgraced plagiarizer Chris Spence could read the writing on the wall.
But he refuses to accept the loss of his PhD from the University of Toronto and the former director of education for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has just lost another battle to get it back.
Ontario’s Divisional Court has refused to overrule a 2017 decision by a U of T tribunal stripping him of his doctorate in education.
As the court notes: “The Tribunal found Mr. Spence guilty of academic dishonesty in connection with his doctoral thesis. It found 67 examples of plagiarized content: some as short as a few sentences and some several pages long, the longest of which was nine pages.”
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The tribunal was scathing in its decision to disallow his 1996 dissertation: “Short of purchasing an essay from an essay service — it is difficult to envisage plagiarism more blatant or extensive … given the sheer volume [and] the extent to which unattributed portions were clearly tailored to fit the narrative of Mr Spence’s thesis.”
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Spence, who now works in Chicago with at-risk youth, first turned to U of T’s Discipline Appeals Board, arguing that he was suffering from mental health issues at the time and the university tribunal unfairly refused his request to reschedule his 2017 hearing. Last year, the appeals board refused to overturn the decision.
Chris Spence (Toronto Sun files)
Now the Divisional Court has done the same.
“My client and myself, as well, are disappointed in the outcome,” says his lawyer Darryl Singer. “Dr. Spence is very, very distressed. He’s despondent over it. This decision may put his job and his work visa at risk.”
It has been such a spectacular fall from grace from the once-venerable educator.
Spence was hired in 2009 to save Toronto’s struggling public education system. Compared to Sidney Poitier’s character in To Sir With Love, the beloved teacher who worked miracles in inner-city London, he was a skilled orator and eloquent writer.
Except it turned out many of his words were not his own.
One of the most egregious examples was Spence’s op-ed in the Toronto Star where he described telling his son about the Sandy Hook school shooting, a touching anecdote taken almost verbatim from a writer in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After the discovery of similar examples of plagiarism, Spence resigned his TDSB position in 2013. Three years later, the Ontario College of Teachers revoked his teacher’s licence.
Ironically, that decision was overturned by a different panel of the Divisional Court last year and a new disciplinary hearing was ordered.
But in that case, while Spence was also a no-show, he did provide a medical note about his “precarious” mental state and a psychiatric report about his depression, yet the college’s discipline committee proceeded without him, which the court ruled was unfair.
The university tribunal was very different, according to the recent Divisional Court ruling. Spence remained in Chicago, claiming he was having a panic attack, and wanted an adjournment despite never providing medical evidence and having been warned that after years of delays, it was going to go on.
“I do not doubt that Mr. Spence has found the proceedings brought against him to be extremely painful,” wrote Justice David Corbett on behalf of the panel. But Spence has been responsible for “extraordinary delay” including 17 adjournments between 2013 and 2017, hiring four different lawyers and unfounded allegations of bias against the tribunal and appears to be “doing everything he can to avoid the evil day when he must face judgment.
“But these proceedings must take place eventually,” the judge said, “and the results of this application are a direct result of Mr Spence’s unwillingness to face that reality.”
He’s still not facing it. Spence is now considering an appeal to Ontario’s highest court.