The decision of the Senate to suspend a university student for misconduct was set aside for lack of procedural fairness and an order was made to implement the Senate Committee’s recommendation allowing the student’s appeal

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – University Committees – Universities – Student discipline – Investigations – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Failure to provide reasons

Dunne v. Memorial University of Newfoundland, [2012] N.J. No. 89, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, March 8, 2012, A.E. Faour J.

Dunne, a student at Memorial University, was accused of academic misconduct. The Senate Committee and Undergraduate Studies conducted an investigation, found that there had been academic misconduct and suspended Dunne for two semesters (1 academic year). Dunne’s appeal to the Executive Committee of the Senate was denied.

Dunne further appealed to the Senate Committee on Academic Appeals (“Senate Committee”), which proceed through a thorough process and ultimately recommended that his appeal be allowed. When this recommendation came before the Senate, however, Dunne’s appeal was rejected. The Senate did not provide reasons for declining to follow the recommendation of the Senate Committee.

Dunne applied to the Court to set aside the Senate’s decision. The standard of review of reasonableness should apply to the substantive outcome. In addition, procedural fairness is required of proceedings in the university context.

Dunne had been afforded a full opportunity to present his case. Unfortunately, because the Senate did not give reasons for its rejection of the committee’s recommendation, the basis for its decision could not be determined. Since a year-long suspension is a significant sanction that has an adverse effect on the individual, a high level of procedural fairness is required.

Where a decision is made contrary to the recommendation before an administrative law decision-maker, more detailed reasons are required than if a detailed recommendation is being adopted. The reasons would have to be “substantial and well-articulated.” A “very strong” justification for imposing the sanction against recommendations would be needed, particularly given the Senate Committee’s conclusion that the ethical framework for student conduct was unclear at the time of Dunne’s violations.

The Court substituted its determination for that of the Senate, rather than remitting the matter back to the university. However, the Court characterized the substitute decision as one that had already been made by the university, as manifest in the Senate Committee. The record before the Court was complete and included the evidence below and an investigation into the environment within with ethical behaviour of students was being regulated.

The decision of the Senate was set aside and an order was made to implement the Senate Committee’s recommendation.

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