News / Toronto

U of T checking Chris Spence’s dissertation for plagiarism

The University of Toronto is investigating allegations that former Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence plagiarized several lengthy passages of his doctoral dissertation.

Spence, in a written statement first obtained by the Star, said he is “aware of allegations with respect to other writings, including my 1996 PhD dissertation. I want to assure the relevant parties that I intend to fully co-operate with any possible inquiry. I look forward to hearing from them at the appropriate time.

He also thanked the media “for their consideration. My family and I would also like to extend our sincerest thanks to the many people who have expressed kind wishes. We are immensely grateful for that.”

Spence received the doctorate in education from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. His thesis was titled “The Effects of Sport Participation on the Academic and Career Aspirations of Black Male Student Athletes in Toronto High Schools.”

The Star found five passages that had apparently been plagiarized from other sources, in the first 33 pages of the 289-page document alone. In some instances, Spence appears to have copied word-for-word from other authors.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications and marketing, said in an email that the matter was under review.

“The University takes academic integrity very seriously. The matter is under review. At this time, the University has no further details to provide,” he said.

U of T dean of education Julia O’Sullivan has not replied immediately to requests for comment.

Spence resigned Thursday as director of education amid a growing plagiarism scandal that has rocked the already troubled Toronto District School Board.

Sources say he’ll receive roughly seven months’ pay — slightly more than what was left in his existing $272,000-a-year contract that was to end this summer.

Spence has said he plans to take an ethics course at Ryerson University and will personally contact the authors whose work he passed off as his own.

He has been accused of multiple instances of plagiarism — in speeches, published articles, his online blog and, now, several questionable passage in his doctoral thesis — in addition to the initial instance in the Star for which he’d already apologized.

Spence has decided to stay quiet for now, declining media interviews and suspending his usually active Twitter account.

Deputy director Donna Quan has been named interim director, and trustees are expected to vote Friday at a morning meeting on who will replace Spence temporarily before they hire a headhunter to conduct a search for his replacement.

On Wednesday, the Star reported that an opinion piece Spence submitted about extracurricular activities was cobbled together using several passages from other sources, including two paragraphs directly taken from the New York Times. A reader alerted the paper to the unattributed material.

Spence admitted the initial case of plagiarism when contacted by the Star on Tuesday, and apologized for it. On Wednesday, he posted a lengthy apology on the board’s website.

On Thursday, the National Post found more examples of writing Spence claimed were his, in the Star and elsewhere, with passages he used but did not credit.

Examples of plagiarism continue to mount, in his personal blog, a 2010 speech made in front of teachers at the Air Canada Centre, and particularly in the dissertation.

On page 2 of his thesis, Spence writes, “The emphasis has shifted from the provision of formal or legal equality of opportunity, to the requirement that educational institutions take active or affirmative steps to ensure equal treatment of different groups.”

That sentence also appears in “Contradictions of Recent Educational Reforms,” by Ibrahim Alladin, in “Excellence and Quality in Education,” a book published one year earlier.

Spence said in his resignation letter he intends to “restore my reputation, and to uphold the academic integrity I consider to be so important. But most importantly, to make amends for what I have done.”

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