I have written ten previous posts about Chris Spence. the disgraced former Director of the Toronto District School Board, whose fall from professional grace was caused by his serial plagiarism. I hope readers will indulge me for my eleventh post, this one in response to a risible attempt at resurrecting his career.
When I taught, plagiarism was considered the worst academic crime one could commit. It still is. But according to Spence apologist Bruce Davis, former Chair of the Toronto District School Board and a trustee from 2000-2010, it is really much ado about nothing, and that the recent revocation of Spence's teaching certificate was an egregious injustice that must be rectified.
I was gob-smacked last week when I learned of the Ontario College of Teachers’ decision to revoke Chris Spence’s teaching qualifications. Dumbfounded. Confused. Irritated. Angry.After launching into a protracted encomium that suggests Spence is a living saint, Davis makes this remarkable and quite inaccurate assertion:
I thought I was witnessing a professional lynching.
Spence paid dearly for his acts of plagiarism first revealed by the Toronto Star, resulting in the loss of his professional stature, his salary, and his reputation in the community. But he took responsibility and owned up to his mistakes.He neglects to add that Spence's 'owing up' took place only after he was caught, and in a desperate bid to salvage his job. But that matters not to Davis:
In the context of Spence’s clear remorse for his acts, I saw an opportunity for Spence to talk to kids about academic ethics, about putting in the hard work and not taking short-cuts, and about taking responsibility when you mess-up. I believe Spence’s fall from grace remains a teachable moment.In a clever bit of misdirection, Davis looks at sanctions meted out to others who have run afoul of professional ethics, and suggests that Spence's punishment is disproportionate; Spece's personal apologist is apparently either oblivious to, or willfully ignorant of, the grave nature of the former educator's misdeeds. And he offers two very suspect conclusions:
In my view, to a reasonable person taking away Spence’s certification to teach is not proportional to the magnitude of his mistakes. On the contrary – it is patently unfair and heavy-handed.This article was all too much for me, so I penned a letter of rebuttal to the Toronto Star, which I hope they print:
I stand by Chris Spence. If the opportunity had been presented, I would have advocated on his behalf at his discipline hearing. I would have told the panel without equivocation or doubt: this man should still be teaching children and leading teachers.
I must take strong issue with Bruce Davis's stout defence of Chris Spence, the disgraced former Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board. It would seem that his friendship with Spence has led him to minimize the gravity of the latter's misdeeds.
By all accounts a serial plagiarist whose ignoble acts go back at least as far as his PhD thesis, Spence has shown a consistent disregard for academic honesty, the sine qua non for all educators. The fact that his teaching licence has been revoked is simple justice, neither “patently unfair and heavy-handed,” nor a ”professional lynching” as described by Davis.
During my career as a high school teacher, there could be no greater betrayal than a student's theft of another's ideas or words. To have that same academic crime committed by someone purporting to be an educational leader and exemplar compounds the betrayal; by showing flagrant, egregious and repeated contempt for the staff, students and parents he was supposedly leading, Spence did not make 'mistakes' but rather revealed himself to be one who felt the rules were made for others, not him, to follow, and thus did grievous harm not only to public morale but also to the students under his leadership.
If that doesn't warrant the revocation of a teaching certificate, what does?