Ryerson University is being threatened with a $10-million class-action lawsuit spearheaded by a student who was nearly expelled for running a Facebook study group where classmates swapped tips on homework questions.
A statement of claim, filed on behalf of third-year engineering student Chris Avenir, says the university’s policy on academic misconduct denies students the right to have a lawyer present at hearings where they can be given failing grades or recommended for expulsion.
Serious cases where students can actually be suspended or expelled must be heard before the school’s Senate, in which a lawyer can be present.
The current policy deprives students of an adequate defence, while causing “significant emotional and/or mental stress,” the statement said.
“It makes you feel really overwhelmed,” said Avenir. “You don’t really know what’s going on as a student; with all the proceedings, you’re not too sure how it works.”
None of the allegations has been proven in court. Ryerson’s general counsel said the school will vigorously defend against the claims.
“We have lots of confidence in our academic integrity policies,” Julia Hanigsberg said.
The claim must go before a judge to determine whether it may proceed as a class action. If certified, the class-action suit could include every student who has gone through misconduct tribunals since March 2003, potentially thousands of students.
The lawsuit hinges on an allegedly conflicting statement in the university’s academic conduct policy.
The statement of claim suggests Ryerson violated a policy that states all hearings will be consistent with the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, which guarantees a person the right to be represented by a lawyer.
However, the policy available on Ryerson’s website states that only Senate hearings will be conducted under the provincial act’s guidelines.