By enrolling in a university, students become subject to the institution’s discretion in resolving academic matters. Courts will only interfere in the core academic functions of universities in cases of “manifest unfairness”. Based on these principles, the Court denied an application on judicial review to set aside a decision of the Senate Appeals Committee of the University of Alberta, which upheld the Residency Program Committee’s requirement that a postgraduate medical student in cardiac surgery enter a six-month remediation period prior to entering her fourth year of residency. Given that the resident’s right to continue her profession and employment was not at stake, she had no right to call or cross-examine witnesses in the academic proceedings.

26. June 2012 0

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – University Committees – Universities – Medical residents – Evaluation of residents – Physicians and Surgeons – Training requirements – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Bias – Witnesses

Alsaigh v. University of Ottawa, [2012] O.J. No. 2027, 2012 ONSC 2313, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, April 25, 2012, K.E. Swinton, T.P. Herman, K.M. van Rensburg JJ.

The applicant, a postgraduate medical resident in cardiac surgery, sought judicial review of a decision of the University of Ottawa’s Senate Appeals Committee (“Appeals Committee”), which upheld the Faculty of Medicine’s Residency Program Committee’s decision to not allow the applicant to advance to year four of her residency program (PGY4), until she had completed a six-month remediation period. The applicant argued that the decision of the Appeals Committee was unreasonable and she was denied procedural fairness.

Her application was dismissed. By enrolling in a university, a student becomes subject to the institution’s discretion in resolving academic matters and courts are reluctant to interfere in the core academic functions of universities. In this case, the Appeals Committee considered the applicant’s lack of academic progress, instances of unprofessional behaviour, and the applicant’s apparent lack of insight into her own limitations. Its decision was reasonable, within the range of possible, acceptable outcomes, and defensible in respect of fact and law.

The Court noted that courts should only interfere in university affairs in cases of “manifest unfairness”: Paine v. University of Toronto (1981), 34 OR (2d) 770 (C.A.). The involvement in the investigation of the complaint by physicians subject to prior grievances filed by the applicant did not give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias. Procedural fairness requirements depend on the context and the rights affected. This case involved an academic decision where the applicant’s right to continue in her profession or employment were not at stake and where the allegations did not go to the applicant’s honesty. The directions for remediation were not punitive. In such circumstances, there was no right to call or cross-examine witnesses. The reasons for the decision provided by the Appeals Committee were sufficient.

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