416-477-6793 adam@aglaw.ca

The majority of universities in Canada will begin the process of addressing an academic integrity violation with an exploratory meeting.  Although a student may or may not have spoken with the Professor or course instructor bringing the allegation the exploratory meeting is often the first official point of contact.  The meeting will be chaired by a faculty member who has been appointed for the express purpose of investigating these issues.  They are often called a Dean’s Designate.

It is rare for the Professor or course instructor to chair an exploratory meeting.  The reason for this is the person making the allegation should be kept at “arm’s length” from the decision-making process.  This is designed to assure fairness, neutrality, and the absence of bias in the process.

Here are four myths about exploratory meetings:

  1. They are informal.  Despite what a University might claim, the meeting is not informal.  The chair or Dean’s Designate will be there asking direct questions about the allegations.  The Professor or course instructor may be there to present the case (or in many cases say nothing).  There is likely to be a note-taker who will record everything that happens at the meeting.  Statements made by the student can also be used against them should the matter proceed beyond the exploratory meeting.
  2. A good explanation will result in the case being dismissed.  The reality is that most cases that proceed to an exploratory meeting are very strong.  Unfortunately many explanations provided by students are not believable.  I can often determine this within the first few minutes in meeting with a student.  The Dean’s Designate will likely be able to do this as well (especially since they are often leaders in the subject-matter of the course where the allegation occurred).  Attempting to “explain away” an allegation will usually not work out well for the student (unless of course the explanation is the truth and is believable).
  3. A lawyer or representative cannot assist at an exploratory meeting.  The Dean’s Designate will likely make it clear that they want to hear from the student.  As a result a lawyer will often not say a word.  The presence of a lawyer can still be very helpful.  A lawyer will assure the student is treated fairly and any explanations for the offence (whether the student is claiming innocence or accepting responsibility) will be properly communicated.  A lawyer will also be able to ask the Dean’s Designate for a short break to discuss any new information or  the potential for resolution.  It is true that a small number of schools refuse to have lawyers at this meeting (such policies could likely be challenged as they are in clear violation of the right to counsel before administrative bodies); in such a case it would be beneficial to discuss with a lawyer the best strategy to proceed.
  4. A student will be provided with all evidence against them before the meeting.  Many schools will refuse to do this.  They will claim that the case will be discussed at the meeting and the student will have their opportunity to be heard at that point.  Such a policy could likely be challenged as an administrative body should not be able to ambush people with allegations; however it may make strategic sense to wait for the meeting and allow the school to control its own process.

For a number of years I took great issue with the exploratory meeting and felt they were unfair to the student.  Over the past several months, as COVID-19 has resulted in a marked increase of academic dishonest allegations, I have discovered great benefit in these meetings and their ability to resolve a matter early in the process.  For a student who has a bona fide and believable explanation that they did nothing wrong, or a student faced with overwhelming evidence of guilt, the exploratory meeting can yield fair results.