A Ryerson University engineering student punished for his Facebook study group has started a $10-million class-action lawsuit against the Toronto institution.
Chris Avenir faced 147 counts of academic misconduct two years ago for his Facebook group, which let engineering students “discuss/post solutions” to homework problems. The course stipulated that students had to conduct independent work. Mr. Avenir faced expulsion, but a faculty committee ruled he should instead receive a zero for one assignment and a disciplinary note in his file.
A statement of claim filed on Mr. Avenir’s behalf says that students enrolled at Ryerson have been denied the right to have a lawyer present at disciplinary hearings. According to the document, the university violated its policy requiring that all hearings comply with the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, which guarantees a right to legal counsel. The policy states that all its Senate hearings must “be conducted in a manner consistent with” the act.
In a Toronto Star article published March 18, the university’s general counsel said the institution planned to defend itself against the allegations.
“We have lots of confidence in our academic integrity policies,” Julia Hanigsberg said. Of the more than 600 misconduct cases at Ryerson between 2007 and 2009, Ms. Hanigsberg said, only a fraction reached the Senate.
Mr. Avenir has 90 days from when the lawsuit was filed — on February 24 — to file a request that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice proceed with the case. If approved, the class-action suit would automatically include all students who passed through the disciplinary process on or after March 4, 2003, when the university approved the policy. Those students would then have the right to opt out of the lawsuit, and any awarded amount would be split evenly among the defendants.
Mr. Avenir’s lawyer, John J. Adair, declined to comment further on the case.