Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why Chris Spence Must Be Fired

It is hardly an insight to observe that ours is a world that bears witness to institutional and organizational failures on a massive scale. Those bodies that should be there to promote and protect the public good have proven far more adept at promoting and protecting their own interests instead. Be they church, government, police, education or charitable institutions, each have a long and well-publicized record of failing crucial tests of their integrity.

I fear that the Toronto District School Board can soon be added to that unenviable gallery of infamy.

Last night, the TDSB deferred to a later date a discussion to decide Director Chris Spence's fate, at the same time as Chair Chris Bolton made the following declaration:

“We want to assure everyone and the public we take the situation very seriously and we want to address it in a timely fashion”.

A fine-sounding statement, but any dithering on the board's part can serve no constructive purpose. To be perfectly clear, Spence's transgression was not a 'mistake' or a result of 'sloppiness' or 'carelessness'. It was a deliberate attempt to deceive his employers, The Toronto Star, and the public at large. And, as pointed out yesterday by the National Post's Chris Selley, the offending article's content, as brief as it was, seems mainly to have been a cut-and-paste exercise culled from multiple sources, and much more extensive than suggested by yesterday's Star apology.

These facts raise troubling questions not only about the Director's character, judgement and integrity, but also his intellectual capacities. Platitudes, especially those derived from other sources, can never be a substitute for substance.

Finally, there is a very disturbing report in today's National Post alleging that Spence may in fact be a serial plagiarist. According to reporters Megan O'Toole and Chris Selley,

...the National Post has found several instances in which Mr. Spence seems to have taken information from other articles without crediting them. In December, the Star published an op-ed under Mr. Spence’s byline about the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. It included an anecdote — ostensibly about how Mr. Spence explained the horrific violence to his son Jacob — that closely resembles one described by another writer, Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Was anyone killed?” the boy asks. In Ms. Sultan’s work, he is 7. In Mr. Spence’s, his age has been changed to 10.

“Yes, some people were killed,” read the two columns, Mr. Spence’s published days after Ms. Sultan’s. “It’s very sad. But your school is safe. And I will do anything and everything to make sure you and your sister are always safe at school.” Huge swaths of the remaining narrative appear to have been copied from a grab bag of sources: the Post-Dispatch, the Sacramento Bee and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Additionally, the Post reports that a

... segment from a July 24 opinion piece published in the Star, pegged to this summer’s Danzig Street shootout, appears to be word-for-word from an online “healthy students plan” originating in Connecticut. An October 2011 entry to his personal blog about the Chinese education system appears strikingly similar to information in The New York Times, Time magazine and other sources.

It can never be pleasant to have a person's employment fate rest in one's hands. Yet that is one of the crucial responsibilities those who vie for public office must accept without reservation. Chris Spence has become an unequivocal liability for the Toronto District School Board, one that threatens to further undermine its reputation and the goals and standards it sets for its students.

Spence must be jettisoned with dispatch if public accountability is to be anything other than an empty and morally bankrupt phrase.


  1. Can't wait for Wente to weigh in on this.

  2. Chris Spence former job was a super intendant for the Hamilton Board. We were happy to be rid of him. When Chris was in the schools he would bring his "media" team with him. There were many more pictures of him in board brochures than students. He deserved what he got.

  3. I have heard several people describe him as a self-promoter, Anon. Your reference to his media entourage is consistent with that description.