A note regarding name substitution

The McGill administration takes concerns of confidentiality to an absurd level. This goes to the point where a certain member of -- and apologist for -- the administration has stated, with an admirably very straight face, that it may be illegal for a professor to publicly acknowledge the existence, by name, of another faculty member, or to list the names of students on a web page. (Right, throw us all in jail.) At any rate, I'm going to the unusual degree of removing all specific references to names and job titles in the correspondence below, even where these are available publicly on McGill's own web pages. Instead, I refer to the various champions of our university's academic integrity by such generic descriptions as "Senior Departmental Administrator" and "University Administrator".


The very brief technical summary of the nature of plagiarism that was brought to the attention of the Faculty Administrator can be found here for assignment #2 and here for assignment #3.

The detailed correspondence appears below, arranged in chronological order. I've attempted to summarize the responses of university administration, as well as correspondence with one of the students, without including the verbatim text of their email. Individuals are referred to by the title they hold while the two students involved are referred to simply as [Student A] and [Student B].

The correspondence began on March 23, 2007, when the Faculty Administrator contacted me regarding a late penalty that was assessed on [Student A]'s assignment #2.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Student A]
Date: March 23, 2007 10:53:06 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

My policy on late submissions is articulated in the course outline for my AI class ( http://www.cim.mcgill.ca/~jer/courses/ai/outline/):

"Unless discussed with the instructor at least one week in advance, all assigned work is due on or before 16:00 of the due date. The penalty for all late submissions will be 15% if received within 24 hours, 30% if received within 48 hours of the due date; no work will be accepted thereafter."

In the first lecture of the term, I also indicate to the class that this applies in the event of medical reasons as well, and repeated this explanation to [Student A] when he challenged my policy, noting "Well, you're the only professor at McGill who does this.". While I am not aware of any McGill regulations that allow students a penalty-free late submission if accompanied by a medical note (http://media.www.mcgilltribune.com/media/storage/paper234/news/2006/09/19/Features/Feature.Ferris.Bueller.Did.It.Why.Cant.We-2283517.shtml), if I am mistaken in this matter, I will, of course, revise this accordingly and adjust his grade on the assignment.

The assignment to which [Student A] refers had its full specifications posted on January 27 and was due February 13. The student submitted his assignment electronically on February 15, with the following note of explanation [removed].

The grade assessed by the TA was 11.5/20, which, factoring in the 30% penalty for lateness, became 8.05/20.

[Student A] did not attend class the day the assignments were returned. Before reviewing the TA feedback on his assignment, he sent me a message via WebCT complaining about his grade, which led to the following exchange:

[On March 6, the student stated that the grade he received for assignment #2
of 8/20 was "not possible" and asked me to "review the grade and
adjust it."]

| | From: Cooperstock, Jeremy
| | Subject: RE: assignment 2 mark
| | Date Sent: March 7, 2007
| | To: [student A]
| |
| |
| | You are certainly entitled to appeal your mark by submitting your
assignment to me along with a note of explanation, clearly indicating
the areas where you feel the grade or comments of the TA were not
| |
| | - Jeremy

[On March 7, the student requests a meeting time]

From: Cooperstock, Jeremy
To: [student A]
Subject: RE: assignment 2 mark
Sent: March 8, 2007 4:31 PM

My office hours are Wednesday 11-12:30pm, but you may submit by email
your note of explanation, clearly indicating the areas where you feel
the grade or comments of the TA were not justified. However, since you
have yet to pick up the TA feedback concerning your assignment, I
suggest to you that this is premature, and you would be better advised
to attend class, if at all possible.

- Jeremy

[Student A] has not since appeared at my office, nor has he picked up his assignment with the TA comments.

This is not the first time the student attempted to gain an extension on his assignments, as per the email below [removed].

Best, - Jeremy

The Faculty Administrator responded that he had no problems with my policy "except that, if a medical situation arises where the student cannot possibly contact you a week in advance (e.g hospitalized, rendered immobile), the student should be exempt from this policy." He concludes, "... The question here is, could he have contacted you before the 15th to inform you of his situation? If yes, your penalty holds."

It bears noting that the student's doctor's note of February 13, refers only to his claim of missing courses on that one day. It is thus ludicrous to suggest that the student had no means of contacting his instructor the next day, at the very least. Nevertheless, the Faculty Administrator removed the late penalty on his own, with no notice to me.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Student A]
Date: March 24, 2007 3:35:18 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

No, it is I who should thank you for your well reasoned and balanced approach to the situation. I have had the misfortune of dealing with previous administrative individuals where this was far from the case. Certainly, with respect to a situation where the student has no means of contacting me within the stated one week advance period, I would agree immediately to an exemption. In fact, it is probably worth adding an explicit clarification to my policy along these lines. Of course, the simple statement as it is at present is meant simply to discourage the sort of "I was ill for three days, so I need an extension" excuse when the assignment specifications were available for more than two weeks.

On this topic, though, how would you propose dealing with a medical-related delay in the case where assignments are done by group? To complicate matters further, what if the deliverable of assignment x is a prerequisite for *another* group starting assignment x+1? This is the scenario in my HCI class, where part-way through the term, each team evaluates the work of another team. Fortunately, this problem has not arisen in my HCI class, but it could, potentially, and in the back of my mind, I've been worrying about how this could be addressed fairly.

Best, - Jeremy

Then, on March 26, my TAs brought to my attention two assignments that had obviously been worked on collaboratively, despite the assignment specifications clearly noting that the work was to be done indepedently.

These submissions contained two programs, one, in C or C++, to generate the data and a second, in Matlab, to run the neural network using this data. The Matlab programs were identical across the two submissions (apart from one minor detail in one line) while the former contained significant non-coincidental similarities that did not appear in the submissions of any other students. Importantly, one of the two data-generation programs included a section of code that had been commented out of the other (a rewind(), followed by an (over)writing of the first few bytes of the file with the line count). Because of the destructive nature of this code segment, the resulting data files produced were corrupt, and this, in turn, prevented the Matlab program from running, as noted by the TAs on the attached marking sheet. This was, in fact, what raised their suspicions initially.

Nevertheless, both students submitted ouptut graphs supposedly obtained by running their code. Obviously, as was explained to the Faculty Administrator, this is not possible.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: 304-526 grades
Date: April 22, 2007 4:06:37 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator], As you requested, the final grading outcomes for the two students in my Artificial Intelligence class are as follows:

with 100% credit given for Assignment #3:

[Student B] -- 65.1% = B-
[Student A] -- 43.4% = F

with 0% credit given for Assignment #3:

[Student B] -- 54.3% = D
[Student A] -- 37.0% = F

At your instruction, I have entered grades of 'K' for both students in Minerva.

Regards, - Jeremy

I was contacted by the Faculty to explain why I had entered a "K" grade for a graduating student.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: Graduating Student
Date: April 24, 2007 2:44:55 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator], This was done at the request of [Faculty Administrator].

Regards, - Jeremy

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: [student A]
Date: April 29, 2007 11:19:28 AM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

In the WebCT mail that I include below, [Student A] is presumably referring to the Faculty Administrator. If what he says is true regarding your decision, I must say that this is most disappointing. My TAs are both very intelligent and one, in particular, is highly experienced in grading assignments. Their assessment of the similarities between the two assignments was, in my judgement, entirely valid, and the elements of plagiarism in the program code were obvious, even to a non-programmer. I am afraid that the message evidently conveyed to [Student A] by our faculty has only encouraged the attitude displayed in his email.

I would be grateful to receive some elaboration from you, subject to the limits of what you are allowed to communicate.

Regards, - Jeremy

[On April 28, 2007, the student requests a meeting to "discuss the
marks i got over the entire semester and more precisely i would like
to talk about the mark you gave my team for our project".]

| From: Cooperstock, Jeremy
| Subject: RE: Project
| Date Sent: April 29, 2007
| To: [student A]
| [Student A],
| Had you attended more of the class lectures, in particular at the
start of the semester, you would have noted my instructions to the
class, repeated on several occasions, that I can only manage to
respond to student email if sent via WebCT.
| Unfortunately, I cannot go over every mark you received throughout
the semester; the time to have raised concerns related to your
assignment and quiz grades was when these were returned to you, in
class, or a short time thereafter.
| The assessment of your final project was as follows (where the
numbered categories correspond to the components described in my post
regarding the project grading):
| 1. C Although the general theory is explained in Appendix B, the
links between it and the problem to solve are not clearly established.
| 2. D General discussion about course material is too vague, does not
show good understanding of methods/course material.
| 3. B Unclear discussion in general.
| 4. B Discussion is vague and should be supported by more
experimental results.
| 5. A
| 6. F (not there)
| 7. A
| 8. C technique not well mastered, little discussion of results
| I'll have to check whether the TAs included further comments in the
marked-up hardcopy of your project report. If you'd like to pick this
up, please let me know and I will leave it with the department
| Regards,
| - Jeremy

[On April 29, the student writes "... you accused me of cheating
remember? Well now that the [incorrectly designated Faculty Administrator] has dismissed that ( for good reason)
i would like to meet with you."]

The Faculty Administrator responds, denying that he told [Student A] that he is not pursuing a disciplinary action with him, but suggesting the he may not pursue the case.

Shortly thereafter, I went back to verify the solutions for the previous assignment submitted by these same two students, and noted large sections of code that were identical between these as well. Again, the assignment specifications clearly noted that the work was to be done indepedently. I brought these materials to the Faculty Administrator, and later sent him a Moss report, which identified 256 matched tokens between their code (despite one written in C++, the other in Java) and significant blocks of the program that were identicial. The next highest match in the class was 83 tokens, for which the relevant lines of matched code were simply the initialization of variables as suggested in the assignment specifications and three lines corresponding to for loops.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [student A]
Date: May 1, 2007 1:37:03 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

Sorry for the delay with this; the network MOSS script wasn't working so I had to revert to the mail-submission method. I attach here a simple report comparing the two submissions side-by-side along with a brief explanatory preamble.

Regards, - Jeremy

I was again contacted by the Faculty to explain why I had entered a "K" grade for a graduating student.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: ECSE 526 Final Grades
Date: May 2, 2007 4:22:25 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Faculty Administrator]

Dear [Faculty Administrator], As per my previous reply of April 24, this was done at the request of [Faculty Administrator].

- Jeremy

The Faculty Administrator then requests paper copies of the assignment.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [student A]
Date: May 3, 2007 10:20:31 AM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

Would you like me to request the paper copies from the two students or will you do this? Obviously, as these have long since been returned to the students, I can only provide you with the electronic submission from WebCT (as reproduced, apart from the .h files, in the previous attachment). The assignment specifications (for all the course assignments) can be found on my publicly accessible web page: http://www.cim.mcgill.ca/~jer/courses/ai/assignments/

Regards, - Jeremy

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: follow-up on [Student A]
Date: May 3, 2007 12:12:36 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator], As per your suggestion, I had responded to [Student A] as follows:

"As I also stated in class, you are free to bring me your assignment(s) for which you disagree with any of the TA grading aspects, along with a note explaining where you believe the grading did not correctly take into account some aspect of your work. I will review this and if appropriate, discuss the relevant sections with the TA(s) who graded the particular assignment. After I've had an opportunity to go over the material and your written explanation, I'll be happy to sit down with you and discuss the marks.

"I will leave your final project with the ECE graduate office on the 6th floor of McConnell Engineering for you to collect at your leisure.

"With respect to the final examination, I suggest that you file a request for an official re-read."

His reply is below. Before I respond and arrange a meeting with him to go over his final examination, I'd first like to hear from you as to how you intend to proceed with respect to the matter of plagiarism in his assignments. This is particularly relevant as, in the case that the student is assigned grades of 0 for both assignment #2 and assignment #3, he would require a perfect mark of 40/40 on the final examination in order to reach an overall course mark of 50% (the difference between an 'F' and a 'D').

Since the student has invoked the Charter of Student Rights, I should point out that Section 15a of said document states:

No student shall, with intent to deceive, represent the work of another person as his or her own in any academic writing, essay, thesis, research report, project or assignment submitted in a course or program of study or represent as his or her own an entire essay or work of another, whether the material so represented constitutes a part or the entirety of the work submitted.

Having already invested approximately six hours of my time dealing with the late assignment penalty and subsequently, investigating the question of plagiarism by [Student A], I am reluctant to waste more of my time in this matter when the student in question is not abiding by his responsibilities under the Charter.

Regards, - Jeremy

The Faculty Administrator responded, requesting the electronic version of the assignment submissions.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [student A]
Date: May 3, 2007 1:41:34 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator],

Here are the full sets of electronic submissions, spanning assignments #1, #2 and #3, from the two students, as collected by the WebCT "drop-box". Each assignment is found in a separate directory, labeled by the corresponding assignment number.

I'm not sure what you mean about the assignment question in the website. The full assignment specifications for each assignment are available from the corresponding links.

Regards, - Jeremy

I was contacted by the ECE Deaprtment to explain why I had entered a "K" grade for a graduating student.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: ECSE 526
Date: May 8, 2007 11:59:07 PM EDT (CA)
To: [ECE Programs Coordinator]
Cc: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [ECE Programs Coordinator],

The 'K' grade was submitted as per the instructions of [Faculty Administrator]. As this relates to a question of plagiarism, I am unaware how and when this issue is being resolved.

The Faculty Administrator then states that he has "launched a disciplinary case for Assignment #2" and requests further information regarding the grades breakdown.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: 304-526 grades
Date: May 10, 2007 1:09:36 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Faculty Administrator], Below are the calculations you requested. I will let you know of any subsequent changes as a result of assignment review.

Best, - Jeremy

[Student B]:

with full marks on both Assignment #2 and Assignment #3: 65.2 (letter grade of B-) with zero for Assignment #2; full marks on Assignment #3 only: 54 (letter grade of D)

[Student A]:

with full marks on both Assignment #2 and Assignment #3 and no penalty for late submission: 46.1 (F) with zero for Assignment #2; full marks on Assignment #3 only: 37.5 (F)

The Faculty Administrator then requests assignments from other students in the class.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: 304-526 grades
Date: May 11, 2007 4:30:35 AM EDT (CA)

Hi [Faculty Administrator], Please find attached a tarball of all the other submissions for Assignment #2 received from the class. Most are in Java, two are in C, and one is in C++.

Regards, - Jeremy

My Departmental Administrator writes to ask if I could meet with the student earlier than was possible.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Student A]
Date: May 16, 2007 10:32:44 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Departmental Administrator]
Cc: [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Departmental Administrator], I assume that [Student A] also informed you that the code for his assignment #3 was an almost direct copy (although in Java rather than C++) of another student's and that this matter is now in the hands of [Faculty Administrator]. His assignment #2 was also unusually similar to another's; this too is in the hands of [Faculty Administrator]. In addition, [Student A] objected to my policy on late submissions of assignments, and protested this to [Faculty Administrator]. Similarly, he protested my email policy (I ask all students to contact me through WebCT) and protested both his assignment #3 mark and term project mark before even seeing the TA comments associate with these.

Assuming no penalty for late submission of assignments and no penalty for plagiarism, [Student A]'s term grade would be 46%. With a zero for assignment #3, his term grade drops to 40%. While I am unfortunately familiar with several cases of students being rewarded for cheating on their assignments, I would nevertheless prefer that the faculty first determine whether or not he deserves credit for his "work" before I am asked to go over the assignment with him. I remain perfectly willing to review his comments regarding the project mark and/or final examination, when I am available on May 29. If he is in Toronto at that time, we could always meet by audio or videoconference.

Regards, - Jeremy

The Departmental Administrator responds, requesting the status from the Faculty Administrator. The Faculty Administrator then informs us that "After a very thorough review with both students I have acquitted both of all charges."

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Student A]
Date: May 17, 2007 3:43:16 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Departmental Administrator], [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [Departmental Administrator],

Yes, I'm out of town at present, and I'm afraid my schedule does not permit me to meet with the student until May 29.

[Faculty Administrator],

Could I respectfully request some elaboration from you as to why you have acquitted both students of all charges? Did you conclude that the program code for both assignments #2 and #3 was worked on independently by the students (as stipulated in the assignment specifications? If this was not the case, how does their work *not* constitute an example of academic misconduct and are you suggesting that both students should receive full marks for work that was done in coordination, in contravention of the specifications, when the rest of the class worked independently on their assignments?

Regards, - Jeremy

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Student A]
Date: May 22, 2007 3:19:05 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Departmental Administrator]

[Faculty Administrator], I'd appreciate a quick answer to my question, as I may need to raise this issue at the ECE Department meeting, scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

- Jeremy

The Faculty Administrator explains his decision as based on the MOSS comparisons, the students' feedback, and differences in the code, "e.g a M+1 and N+1 statement in one students work that was a M and N in the other one's assignment, fairly different lines of code even in the parts that were marked in red" and concludes that he has " insufficient basis and evidence to give them a guilty sentence."

Those readers remotely familiar with software practice will appreciate the absurdity in the above statement.

Minutes from Department Meeting (May 23)

J. Cooperstock raised the issue of academic integrity. He had to deal with what he thinks was a serious violation of academic integrity in his Artificial Intelligence class and is concerned with how the University and the Faculty handled the case. Two students submitted computer codes as part of a course project that showed similarities that went beyond what one would reasonably expect. However, the Faculty acquitted the students of all charges. He asked if it was possible as a department to establish our own standards and if we have a mechanism to influence the Faculty in how it deals with academic integrity violations. [Senior Departmental Administrator] asked if there is any department committee that could help instructors by suggesting protocols to be followed that would be acceptable by the Faculty. J. Webb replied that such a committee does not currently exist and he moved to create an ad-hoc committee to look into the issue. He added that that committee could also provide feedback to the Senior Faculty Administrator and the Faculty Administrator. [Colleague A] remarked that the current system is an evolution. We need to know how this system was established and then address the problem. He added that there are many constraints imposed from the University Administrator on how to handle violation of academic integrity. [Colleague B] remarked that there was a similar situation in the [Colleague B's Lab] that was not treated properly. The next year there was massive cheating in the lab. The only way to address that was to change the lab every year.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: academic integrity issue
Date: May 23, 2007 11:47:33 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Senior Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Senior Departmental Administrator]

Dear [Senior Faculty Administrator],

I am writing you concerning a case of academic integrity that was brought to the attention of [Faculty Administrator]. In this matter, two students in my 500-level Artificial Intelligence class collaborated extensively, in violation of the specificiations, which clearly indicated "To be done independently" on *two* successive assignments, collectively worth 30% of the final grade.

In one such instance (on which I will focus for the remainder of this mail) despite the two submissions written in different languages (C++ and Java), the similarities in their program code are blatantly obvious and not accidental. After meeting with the students involved, [Faculty Administrator] decided to clear them of all charges, awarding them overall course grades as if both assignments had been completed independently. While I can appreciate the difficulties attendant with prosecution of cases of plagiarism or unauthorized collaboration on assignments, I am afraid that this decision sends a very harmful message, both to students and faculty.

I raised this issue during today's ECE Departmental Meeting, distributing a printout of a sample of two of the copied assignments. Several of my colleagues indicated that given their frustration with what they perceive as our Faculty's lax attitude toward plagiarism cases, they prefer to deal with these on their own. For example, some faculty simply assign a grade of 0 for such offenses. While we are not "supposed" to take such matters into our own hands, my personal experience (with three separate Faculty Administrators) leads me to the conclusion that my colleagues who have followed this route are not only saving themselves a great deal of wasted effort presenting their cases, but more importantly, they are communicating a message to our students about academic integrity that are otherwise lost.

As a starting point, I asked my colleagues if they had any suggestions for how we, as a department, could help the Faculty Administrator in understanding what does and does not constitute legitimate similarities in two supposedly independently written computer programs. One idea, now being considered, is to strike an ad-hoc committee, possibly in conjunction with the School of Computer Science, that could advise on such matters related to software. Naturally, I support such an initiative wholeheartedly.

However, in the immediate term, I cannot sit by idly while the students who twice cheated on their assignments receive no penalty, either as disciplinary action or as a reduced grade for their non- independent work in my course. With respect to one of these students, his overall grade was an 'F' in any case (although he is appealing the marks on several pieces of work throughout the semester), so this is somewhat of a moot point. However, the second student received a B- following [Faculty Administrator]' decision, whereas with a penalty of 50% on both assignments or a 0 on either, his grade drops to a D.

Thus, assuming [Faculty Administrator] does not want to reconsider his decision, I request your permission to allow me, as the course instructor nominally responsible for assessing student work, to revise the grade of the second student accordingly, changing the B- to a D. The only alternative that would be fair to the other students in my class who did complete their assigned work indepdendently would be an undesirable choice of raising their marks across the board.

For your reference, the automated analysis of the similarities between the programs (for the assignment #2 submissions of all students in the class) performed by Alex Aiken's well-known Moss (Measure of Statistical Similarity) tool can be found here: http:// moss.stanford.edu/results/949045684 As Aiken notes, "Moss is quite conservative about what it considers matching passages. If Moss says two passages look alike, then they almost certainly look quite alike." A brief inspection of the first two programs side-by-side reveals many additional instances of copied structure that Moss did not flag, whereas the matched code between other students' assignments are non-existent (in which case, no entry appears in the table) or almost non-existent, and in all instances, expected given the nature of the programming task.

I look forward to your reply.

Regards, - Jeremy

Between April 28 and May 26, [Student A] sends me 12 emails regarding his grades and requesting a meeting to go over all his coursework from the term. On May 31, in response to my assessment of his assignment #3 ("It seems apparent to me that the TAs were generous in their grading...") he writes as follows:

I am very disappointed in how you treat your students. I am only asking for the points I deserve. I got 0 on the programming part maybe initially because you thought I had cheated... but I didn't so I should get the points I deserve for that section which is only fair.

I am upset that you talk to me in a very condescending way. You have no right to be this way with your students. If you think that I am just going to end up by letting this go, you are very wrong. If need be I will sue you, the department, the faculty basically anything I need to do so that my rights are maintained. I paid to get this education and I paid to be fairly marked and not be judged by someone who just does not respect me.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: academic integrity issue
Date: May 31, 2007 11:05:57 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Senior Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Senior Departmental Administrator], [Departmental Administrator]

Dear [Senior Faculty Administrator],

I'm resending the following note of May 23 in the event that this has slipped below your radar. In the interim, I see that one of the two students involved in plagiarism in my course has graduated without any academic repercussions, while the second has sent me several hostile letters, now reaching a level of harassment, in which the most recent appears threatening. From his tone, I am concerned that this individual could escalate his threats to violence. Under these circumstances, I do not feel that I should be engaging in any further correspondence with him. I am copying his latest communications at the bottom of this email. Note that the grade assigned by the TAs for his assignment #3 was 8.5/20; the program code to which he refers did not execute properly, nor was any indication provided that the work was not entirely his own (as per department and university policy).

Since the Moss results page I indicated earlier has since expired, I resubmitted these samples for analysis. The results can now be seen here: http://moss.stanford.edu/results/64753492/

Again, I look forward to your reply.

Regards, - Jeremy

The Senior Faculty Administrator replies that he has been busy and will get back to me.

Around this time, I am contacted by telephone by the Ombudsman for Students, who wishes to discuss the situation, and offers to mediate between the student and me. I suggest that until I discuss this matter with my Senior Faculty Administrator, it would not be appropriate for me to comment.

The Ombudsman explains that he is calling me at the request of my Senior Faculty Administrator (although the Senior Faculty Administrator subsequently denied this, which seemed suspicious, given his comments the following week). I offer my understanding of the situation: that the student will only be satisfied if I grant him additional marks (on assignments that were plagiarized). I inquire as to whether, if a panel of experts in computer software conclude that the code was plagiarized, the mediation could result in the student facing penalties. The Ombudsman states that this is not a possible outcome and that since my Faculty Administrator is in a position of authority over me, I cannot challenge his decision. (I disagree.)

As such, I indicate that there would be no point for me to meet with him, as it would simply be a waste of everyone's time.

On June 7, the Senior Faculty Administrator finally responds to my email, stating that "Academic integrity is a very important issue and I strongly support sending a clear message to students that there is zero tolerance to academic integrity offences." Nevertheless, he backs up the Faculty Administrator and advises me "to consult with your Senior Departmental Administrator and/or the University Administrator on any course of action that you consider."

The Faculty Administrator then writes my Senior Departmental Administrator, alleging that the student "has been unable to obtain a direct explanation from Prof. Cooperstock about the marks". (In fact, I had written the student with a detailed breakdown of his final project marks on April 29. Then, on May 27, I wrote again, offering to meet with the student the following Tuesday to go through his assignment #3 in detail. The student responded that he would be starting an out-of-town job then, so I offered to meet him by videoconference.)

The Faculty Administrator requests that the assignment be re-read in a similar manner to a final examination re-read. I subsequently receive a request to provide the materials required for a reread of the final examination as well.

Also on June 7, I am summoned for an urgent meeting with my Senior Departmental Administrator, who has been asked by the Senior Faculty Administrator to intercede. I explain the situation to the Senior Departmental Administrator and express my frustrations with what has already taken place.

The Senior Departmental Administrator recommends that I email the next day to request a face-to-face meeting with the Senior Faculty Administrator and Faculty Administrator. In the meantime, he requests that I ask the TAs to send me any available solutions for assignment #3, and that I forward these, along with the specifications and the grading spreadsheet, to him.

I agree, but indicate my (admittedly paranoid) concerns that the Faculty is trying to find some way to graduate this student quickly so that everyone can later claim, "Oh, we wanted to deal with this in a serious manner but of course, now it's too late."

In response, the Senior Departmental Administrator states that nobody will do anything in terms of a grade change and obtains my agreement not to escalate further until the re-read process works its way through the system.

He further assures me that "you will be intimately involved in every step of the process with respect to a grade change from the 'K' to something else. I gave you my word on this. Furthermore, your opinion will be solicited as to what that 'K' will become."

The Senior Departmental Administrator reviews my minutes of our meeting and writes two clarifying annotations directly in the notes, printing in capital letters "[Senior Departmental Administrator] HAS W/[Senior Faculty Administrator] OF JUNE 8th" and "FOR THE COURSE".

From: Jeremy Cooperstock [mailto:jer@cim.mcgill.ca]
Sent: Friday, June 08, 2007 1:49 PM
To: [Senior Faculty Administrator]
Cc: [Senior Departmental Administrator]; [Faculty Administrator]
Subject: Re: academic integrity issue

Dear [Senior Faculty Administrator],

Thank you for your response to my email. Following my meeting yesterday with [Senior Departmental Administrator] and at his suggestion, I would like to request an urgent meeting with you, [Faculty Administrator], and [Senior Departmental Administrator], so that I could explain my concerns in person and demonstrate the very obvious aspects of plagiarism that were evident in the students' software, which leave no doubt that they are in violation of Section 15 of McGill's Code of Student Conduct. I can be available to meet with you anytime next week apart from Wednesday.

For further reference, the guidelines regarding plagiarism made available to students in our department ( http://www.mcgill.ca/ece/undergrad/procedures/plagiarism/) state:

"If your document asserts or implies that results were obtained with something you have built on your own, and this is partially or entirely untrue, then you have committed plagiarism. This applies to both hardware and software. For example, if you copied or modified a computer program written by someone else, you must make this clear in your document."

I look forward to meeting with you as soon as possible.

With best regards, - Jeremy

Subsequently, the Senior Faculty Administrator responds to my email, agreeing to meet, but reiterates his belief that "the process was followed with due diligence and I trust the integrity and judgment of the Faculty Disciplinary Officer." He then comments that both students involved have "expressed concerns about unfair treatment in this course" and that "it is unfortunate that you have turned down an offer of mediation by the Ombudsperson, as this is expected practice."

The Senior Faculty Administrator also notes "We can certainly meet if you would like..." and concludes, " If you would like to meet, please contact [Senior Faculty Administrator's secretary] who will organize." Despite numerous attempts on my attempt, as detailed below, to arrange such a meeting, the Senior Faculty Administrator refused to see me to discuss this matter.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca Subject: Re: academic integrity issue
Date: June 10, 2007 10:11:29 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Senior Faculty Administrator], [Senior Faculty Administrator's Office Secretary]
Cc: [Senior Departmental Administrator], [Faculty Administrator], [University Administrator], [University Administrator]

Dear [Senior Faculty Administrator],

Yes, I would still very much like to meet with you, [Faculty Administrator], and [Senior Departmental Administrator]. I would also be most grateful if [University Administrator] and [University Administrator] could participate, as I believe these issues have important implications to the university as a whole. With respect to the other issues you have raised, I would prefer to address these in person, as [Senior Departmental Administrator] wisely suggested to me that "the Senior Faculty Administrator has heard a lot from the student as to his side of the story, but has heard very little from you." I believe it's now time that you heard my side and had an opportunity to review the documentation I have prepared.

I was hoping to meet with you as soon as possible; unfortunately, due to a death in the family, I will be out of town from Tuesday for the remainder of the week. However, I will be available any time the following week (of June 18) apart from Tuesday 2-4pm, Wednesday 2-5pm and Thursday 2-3pm.

Regards, - Jeremy

The University Administrator responds to my email, expressing her willingness to participate in any discussion, but suggesting that I first have a private meeting in the Faculty.

My department's graduate office asks me to provide copies of the assignment specifications, the students' electronic submissions (the software), the marking guide used by the TAs, and the spreadsheet used to calculate course grades.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: [Fwd: assignment #3 specifications and grades spreadsheet]
Date: June 19, 2007 9:43:43 PM EDT (CA)
To: [ECE Programs Coordinator], [Faculty Administrator]

Hi [ECE Programs Coordinator], [Faculty Administrator],

I am attaching a tarball containing the assignments submitted through WebCT by [Student A] and [Student B].

For testing purposes, note that:

Of course, this could not possibly indicate any violation of academic integrity.

Regarding a breakdown for the grade ranges, as per the information I submitted in the Course Information Form in April and also contained in the Excel spreadsheet that has now been passed around several times (and included again here), I followed the default McGill undergraduate grading scheme (i.e. D=50 and above).

Regards, - Jeremy

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: Proposed meeting regarding Integrity matter
Date: June 20, 2007 1:43:27 PM EDT (CA)
To: [University Administrator]
Cc: [Legal Staff]

Dear [University Administrator],

While I remain awaiting a scheduling of my requested meeting with the [Senior Faculty Administrator] and [Faculty Administrator], there is one matter I would like to clarify with you:

In the present case of an academic offense, the [Faculty Administrator] has held a private interview with the student(s) concerned (as per Article 49 of the Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities) and decided to exonerate the student(s) (Article 54). At this point, is the matter definitively closed or, subject to additional evidence provided to demonstrate conclusively a case of plagiarism, is it possible for the Faculty Administrator to reconsider a decision? The regulations do not appear to address this question.

Many thanks in advance, - Jeremy

McGill's [Legal Staff] responds that "it seems that [Senior Faculty Administrator] and [University Administrator] have the matter well in hand. I have no doubt that they will communicate with my office directly if they need help."

The Faculty Administrator then requests confirmation of [Student A]'s overall grade "not accounting for penalties in Assignments 2 and 3 for plagiarism."

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: ECSE 526 - [Student A]
Date: June 25, 2007 8:05:48 AM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator], [University Administrator]
Cc: [Senior Departmental Administrator], [Faculty Administrator] [Legal Staff], [Senior Faculty Administrator's Office Secretary]

Dear [Faculty Administrator],

To answer your questions, I confirm, as stated in my email of May 16, which you included below, "Assuming no penalty for late submission of assignments and no penalty for plagiarism, [Student A]'s term grade would be 46%" whereas it would be 37% with a zero in either of the two plagiarized assignments. The late assignment, however, was Assignment #2 (not Assignment #3), for which [Student A]'s medical excuse arose only on the due date and was brought to my attention at the time of submission, two days later. Regardless, I request that you keep me "intimately involved in every step of the process with respect to any grade change of the student from 'K' to something else, and that my opinion will be solicited as to what that 'K' should become", as [Senior Departmental Administrator] promised me would be the case.

I remain awaiting a scheduling of my requested meeting with the Senior Faculty Administrator and yourself to discuss this matter further. In the meantime, in light of the overwhelming evidence that two of the three "individual" assignments submitted by [Student A] could not have been his own independent work (as but one example, his program code for Assignment #3 does not and cannot run, yet he included results obtained from [Student B]'s code in his report), might you consider the possibility that your initial decision to exonerate the students was made in error?

Dear [University Administrator] and [Legal Staff],

With my above question to [Faculty Administrator] as context, I repeat my query of June 20 regarding your interpretation of the regulations concerning Article 54 of the Code. Specifically, if [Faculty Administrator] agrees that his initial assessment was in error, do the McGill regulations permit him to reconsider his decision and subsequently refer the matter to the CSD?

Thank you, and I look forward to receiving your responses, - Jeremy

The University Administrator responded that she will get back to me after carefully reviewing the procedures. To date, there has been no further communication from her office.

On June 27, I discover that the student's grade was changed to a 'D' (pass). Nobody from the administration has given any indication of this grade change, and when I attempt to contact the Senior Departmental Administrator to remind him of his promise, he is unavailable.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: grievance issue -- urgent advice required
Date: June 28, 2007 4:03:06 PM EDT (CA)
To: [University Administrator]

Dear [University Administrator],

[Assistant to the University Administrator] strongly encouraged me to contact you directly regarding my situation.

In brief, I dealt with two instances of plagiarism involving the same two students in one of my courses last semester. I brought these to the attention of my Faculty Administrator, who, despite overwhelming evidence, exonerated the students on all charges. One of the two students has now graduated; the second should have received an 'F' in my course, even with no penalties for plagiarism. However, he appealed his grades, threatening to sue the university if his rights were not respected. My Senior Departmental Administrator was requested to intervene, and during our meeting on the subject, he gave me his word that I would be kept "intimately involved in every step of the process with respect to any grade change of the student from 'K' to something else, and that my opinion will be solicited as to what that 'K' should become." Today, I learned that the student's grade had been changed to a 'D' without any consultation nor anyone informing me of any steps taking place. As such, the second student is now eligible to graduate.

Over the past month, I was involved in extensive communications with my department colleagues, [Senior Departmental Administrator], and [Senior Faculty Administrator], and also solicited input from the [University Administrator] and [University Administrator], in an effort to make clear the seriousness of this situation and the dangerous precedent that was being set. I first brought this matter to the attention of my [Senior Faculty Administrator] on May 23 and at the suggestion of my Senior Departmental Administrator, have attempted to meet with him since June 8. To date, neither the [Senior Faculty Administrator] nor his secretary have responded with a suggested meeting date/time.

I understand that the grievance procedure is a long and slow one and that no hearings take place over the summer. I would prefer not to air this incident in the media, but my predicament is that if I delay raising public attention to this matter, it will soon be too late to act.

I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience to discuss this further, or if you prefer to speak by telephone, please feel free to contact me anytime over the long weekend at [...]

Regards, - Jeremy

The University Administrator responded, suggesting that before I consider a grievance, I speak with another University Administrator for assistance or additional guidance.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: grievance issue -- urgent advice required
Date: June 28, 2007 4:28:39 PM EDT (CA)
To: [University Administrator]

Hi [University Administrator], Many thanks for your immediate response. Assuming you are referring to [University Administrator], I had already cc'd him on an earlier note, requesting his involvement, but when I encountered him by chance the following week, he indicated that this was not a matter in which he felt comfortable becoming involved due to the potential conflict of interest situation.

Regards, - Jeremy

The University Administrator then suggested she try contacting the Senior Faculty Administrator.

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: grievance issue -- urgent advice required
Date: June 28, 2007 5:49:49 PM EDT (CA)
To: [University Administrator]

Dear [University Administrator],

Given the Senior Faculty Administrator's position, to date, I'm not sure that this is appropriate. However, if the Senior Faculty Administrator gives me his assurance, tomorrow, and in writing, that the student's grade will be placed back on hold and the matter of plagiarism investigated more thoroughly by individuals competent at assessing computer software, I will defer in escalating this.

- Jeremy

On July 9, the University Administrator sent a follow-up note indicating that "the discplinary matter... is definitely closed" and that any evidence I would like to bring forward now is not new, and "should have been part of the evidence presented and discussed at the original disciplinary interview." On this latter point, of course, she is correct, and all of this evidence had been provided to the Faculty Administrator of Engineering when the charge of plagiarism was first raised.

Unfortunately, as the faculty member and/or TAs who noted the obvious nature of the plagiarism are excluded from the meeting of the Faculty Administrator with the students, there is no way for me to know whether the students were actually confronted with this evidence or whether the Faculty Administrator understands the evidence itself. Whether or not the university administration is incapable of recognizing plagiarism in software, it seems to me somewhat problematic that students should earn higher marks for plagiarized, non-working program code, than they would earn by submitting independently written non-working code.

August 27, 2007

Dear [Senior University Administrator],

I was recently made aware of the proposed Policy on Safe Disclosure at McGill, although it appears that while this has been approved by Senate, it remains to be approved by the Board of Governors. In the absence of such a mechanism, I am writing to request a meeting with you regarding my concerns about academic integrity in the Faculty of Engineering.

As indicated in my letter of August 24 to [Senior Faculty Administrator], I presented to my Faculty Administrator two separate cases of plagiarism involving the same two students last March and April. In my opinion, the evidence was overwhelming and totally conclusive, even to someone lacking experience with computer software. Nevertheless, the Faculty Administrator decided not to bring the charges before the Committee on Student Discipline.

I raised this matter to the attention of Senior Faculty Administrator on May 23. Two weeks later, at the advice of my Senior Departmental Administrator, I twice requested that the Senior Faculty Administrator schedule an urgent meeting so that I could explain my concerns in person. I followed-up by telephone with the Senior Faculty Administrator's secretary, but was never granted an opportunity to discuss the evidence of plagiarism.

Subsequently, and following threats of legal action by one of the students, a re-grading of his work conducted by the Faculty Administrator resulted in increases to the marks of the final examination and one of the plagiarized assignments. In combination with the removal of a late submission penalty on the second plagiarized assignment, this apparently raised the student's term mark from 43% (as calculated with no penalties for plagiarism) to 50% (the D threshold) or more. Despite the assurances of my Senior Departmental Administrator that this would not occur, the student's grade was then changed, sometime near June 27, from 'K' to 'D', without my being informed nor my opinion solicited. At no time, despite my best efforts, have I been given a satisfactory explanation as to the reasons for exonerating the students or for the outcome of the re-grading process.

This experience has left me most distressed by the attitude of the Faculty of Engineering toward academic integrity and poses serious questions as to the ability of professors to assign meaningful grades commensurate with student learning.

I look forward to meeting with you at your earliest possible convenience.


Jeremy R. Cooperstock

The following email was obtained from an Access to Information Request; emphasis is mine

From: [McGill Administrator]
Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2007, 7:52 AM
To: [Senior McGill Administrator]
Cc: [Senior McGill Administrator staff]
Subject: Cooperstock letter

[Senior McGill Administrator],

I have read Cooperstock's letter to you concerning his "complaints" against the [Senior Faculty Administrator] et al and the handling of the academic integrity issue in Engineering.

1. Policy on Safe Disclosure: Even if this Policy were in force it is not apparent to me how it would apply in this instance. He clearly is unhappy about the manner in which his plagiarism charges were handled but (i) the Policy does not extend to improper activities by students, (ii) the Policy does not encroach on the obligation of confidentiality, and (iii) he does not identify any improper activity on the part of the [Senior Faculty Administrator] or other staff that would bring the Policy into play.

2. Meeting with Cooperstock: Cooperstock requests a meeting with you. I know your time is limited but it may help if you were to agree to hear him out with respect to his concerns. It might quieten [sic] him down for a while. It would also give you the opportunity to advise him that we will follow up (not that we necessarily accept) some of the concerns expressed in his other letter ot the Senior Faculty Administrator in response to the reprimand (concerning the reach of the Code of Student Conduct, the obligation of confidentiality, etc.). If the various provisions to which he refers are vague as to their reach or other implications they need to be clarified to avoid future misunderstandings.

Best wishes,

[McGill Administrator]

In my meeting with the Senior McGill Administrator of September 4, every concern I raised was summarily dismissed. Instead, I was given a lengthy lecture about how such matters should not be discussed outside of the university because neither the public nor the media "understands how things work in our university". I'll say.

On September 23, in advance of the September 25 department meeting in which I had added "Issues of Academic Integrity" to the agenda, I distributed a summary of these incidents to my colleagues.

After months of silence from my Senior Departmental Administrator, who had earlier made several broken promises, he suddenly asked to meet with me in person to "discuss these issues". I responded:

From: jer@cim.mcgill.ca
Subject: Re: academic integrity issues
Date: September 24, 2007 7:02:30 PM EDT (CA)

Dear [Senior Departmental Administrator],

Thank you for your note and offer to meet. Unfortunately, I have a full schedule tomorrow prior to the Departmental Meeting. In any event, the time to have met in person regarding this matter was in late June, when the value of your word was made clear.

- Jeremy

The next morning, the Senior Departmental Administrator wrote to the entire department, announcing that "The item proposed by Professor Cooperstock entitled '11. Academic Integrity Issues' will be tabled until the planned October 30, 2007 meeting to allow sufficient time to prepare for the discussion."

Here we had a blatant attempt by a university administrator to silence debate, on no less important an issue than academic integrity.

At the department meeting, I first requested that the "Academic Integrity" agenda item be reinstated. A lengthy (heated) discussion followed, in which some faculty members objected to the discussion taking place at all in the forum of a department meeting. I responded that given the need for some transparency in our decision-making process, it was time to address these matters. A vote was taken, with 4 in favour of reinstating the agenda item, 6 opposed, and approximately 35 abstentions.

Given the outcome of the vote, I was granted permission to read my statement, under "Other Business", in which I called for the Senior Departmental to step down.

Following the statement, I was chastised by several colleagues, one of whom "did not feel comfortable" with my demand that the Senior Departmental Administrator step down.

However, another colleague noted (quoting from the Meeting Minutes),

"...that this sort of thing is rampant around the university and if they thought that J. Cooperstock is the only one, they are wrong because it may very well happen to them. [He] also stated that he himself had received a death threat and that he believes that when it comes to the subject of grading students, the university usually takes the student's side. He also said there are only approximately 1,000 professors, so the professors are outnumbered in situations like this, however, he agreed with J. Cooperstock that this requires urgent attention; something definitely must be done."

See below for the follow-up to this.

In parallel, the following correspondence takes place with the Faculty Administrator:

From: Jeremy Cooperstock
Subject: Re: academic integrity issues
Date: September 24, 2007 7:18:13 PM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

With respect to Question 7, given that you "did look at the other exams that were provided and used those to calibrate [your] grading to obtain some consistency", would you be willing to indicate the questions on the exam where you felt the student was deprived of deserved part marks that were awarded to other students for their answers? (I would be happy to give you copies of the exams should you no longer have these available.)

Regarding Question 10, could you explain the basis of your claim that part of the student's program worked (and hence, deserved an extra mark), when it clearly did not, given the corrupt data file it generated as output?

From: [Faculty Administrator]
Subject: Re: academic integrity issues
Date: September 25, 2007 8:59:00 AM EDT (CA)
To: Jeremy Cooperstock

Hi Jeremy,

I will not provide this information, in order to respect the integrity and independence of the re-read process.

From: Jeremy Cooperstock
Subject: Re: academic integrity issues
Date: September 25, 2007 9:10:37 AM EDT (CA)
To: [Faculty Administrator]

Just to be perfectly clear, are you also unwilling to answer my second question, regarding your claim that part of the student's program worked?

- Jeremy

From: [Faculty Administrator]
Subject: Re: academic integrity issues
Date: September 25, 2007 9:47:51 AM EDT (CA)
To: Jeremy Cooperstock

Yes, I am not going to provide any more details on the re-read process, for the reasons I gave.

Then, almost half a year after breaking his promises, the senior departmental administrator sends the following:

November 26, 2007

Dear Professor Cooperstock,

I would like to take this opportunity to address your questions regarding my actions since June 7, 2007. As you have recalled, when we met on June 7 to discuss issues pertaining to student's grades, I offered you several assurances, namely:

(1) That I would ask that the Dean meet with you one-on-one to discuss your concerns -- this I did and it is my understanding that the Dean has explained to you why a meeting did not take place.

(2) That I try and look after faculty and make sure they are treated fairly - this I do within the framework of University policies and regulations - and in return I expect to also be treated in a fair and respectful manner.

(3) That no change of grade would be effected without you being consulted and involved in the process - this assurance I do admit I could not deliver on given the constraints of the rules and regulations governing such matters of which I was unaware. For this I apologize.

Further explanations for my silence was that:

(1) I was on holiday from Sunday, June 24 to Monday, July 2, inclusive. During this period I did not read email or listen to voice mail. Furthermore, persons emailing me received an "out of office" message indicating that I was on vacation and not responding to emails until my return to the office on July 3, 2007. The message also provided contact information should immediate assistance be required.

(2) On July 3 when I returned to the office, I was instructed by the senior administration of the University to have no further interaction with respect to the particular cases. As required in a student disciplinary case, we are obliged to follow official university procedures, which I have been doing since July 3.

I look forward to moving ahead with you as a member of the department.


[Senior Departmental Administrator]

cc [Senior Faculty Administrator]

It's worth asking, with regard to assurance #2 and explanation #2, what "university regulation" prohibits an administrator from communicating to another member of the university community an order he or she has received "to have no further interaction with respect to a particular case." Hence my follow-up question the next day, which has remained unanswered to the present.

I remain unclear as to how this administrator purportedly (tried) to "make sure [I] was treated fairly" but suggests that my own call for his resignation, triggered by his attempt to silence discussion, was somehow unfair treatment of him.

Several months later, on November 27, the administration convened a carefully scripted and tightly managed departmental meeting to discuss the issues of academic integrity. Various administration officials were brought in to speak on behalf of the outstanding job the university was doing in this area, and to remind everyone of the rules. At the end of this meeting, the Senior Departmental Administrator explained that he had been prevented from communicating with me over the spring regarding the plagiarism scandal "under orders from central administration." I then followed up:

JC: By whom in the "senior administration" were you instructed to have no further interaction with respect to the particular case?
[Senior Departmental Administrator]: No comment
JC: Why did this instruction preclude you from letting me know earlier that you were unable to play any role in the case?
[Senior Departmental Administrator]: I suggest you ask the senior administration about this.
JC: Very well, could you tell me who in the senior administration I should ask?
[Senior Departmental Administrator]: I'll get back to you.
JC: I'd like to thank you so much for your transparency in this matter.

Needless to say, I have yet to learn who in "central administration" gave the order.

Last update: October 21, 2008
by Jeremy Cooperstock