Student Wins Academic Integrity Case Against UCSD

After five years of pursuing a lawsuit against UCSD, former student Jonathan Dorfman won an academic integrity case after being expelled for allegedly cheating on a chemistry midterm in 2011. Dorfman now intends to return to the university with a clean slate.

According to the California Court of Appeals document, Dorfman testified that he had arrived late to his exam in May of 2011 and had changed the pre-assigned test version on his scantron to match his test booklet, even though the class had been instructed not to tamper with test versions at the beginning of the exam. Since Dorfman was unaware of that instruction, he did not inform any instructors about changing the test version.

In July of 2011, two months after the exam date, Dorfman was informed that Professor John Crowell suspected him of violating the academic integrity policy by changing the test version. By then, Dorfman had already discarded the exam booklet, said Robert Ottilie, Dorfman’s attorney, during a phone interview. Crowell had not created an assigned seating chart; therefore, Dorfman was unable to compare his answers to the students around him.

Dorfman’s case went to the Academic Integrity Review Board (AIRB). The exhibits of evidence used against him were the change in test version and an outside professor’s claim that the chances of Dorfman’s eight wrong answers matching another student, Student X, were a “billion to one,” as stated in the California Court of Appeals document.

In October of 2011, Dorfman lost the case, and appealed on the basis that the Academic Integrity Coordinator was helping the accusing professor assemble his case by consulting another professor from another university for the statistics, even though the coordinator was supposed to be a neutral figure. Dorfman argued that because of the timing of  Crowell’s allegations, and the university’s refusal to reveal the identity of Student X, his due process rights were violated as per UCSD’s Academic Integrity Policy.

The Regents’ Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline requires all of the universities in the UC system to have the minimum requirements of “the opportunity for a prompt and fair hearing where the University shall bear the burden of proof, and at which the student shall have the opportunity to present documents and witnesses and to confront and cross-examine witnesses presented by the University” as stated in the California Court of Appeals document.

The Council of Provosts reviewed the hearing and decided to throw it out, allowing Dorfman to have a second hearing. Ottilie maintained that Dorfman had violated instructions by changing his scantron version letter, but that violating instructions was not the same as cheating. “You can turn in a work five minutes late and that would be violating instruction, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheating,” said Ottilie. Therefore, according to Ottilie, there was no case against Jonathan.

Consequently, a second AIRB hearing was held. Ottilie added that Dorfman found 44 students out of 618 with 23, 24, and 25 matching answers, and that half of those were from students in different rooms. Still, Dorfman lost the case because, according to the court documents, he could not adequately explain the similarities in his test answers with Student X, which led the panel to conclude that it was more likely than not for him to have cheated.

Dorfman then pushed for a court trial, which eventually went to the California Court of Appeals. During the trial, Ottilie argued that the the professor accused Dorfman of copying every single question on the test. Most people who cheat, however, only copy one or two answers, not the entire test. In addition, Ottilie asserted that it would have been difficult for Dorfman to have cheated for all three hours of the exam as it would require him to constantly look at the other student’s test and make sure he was on the right number for the whole duration of the exam. There were no eyewitnesses and the three TAs in the exam room did not report any suspicious behavior.

Furthermore, Ottilie contended that Dorfman outperformed all other students in attendance, midterms and the final. He also mentioned that this was the second time Dorfman was taking the class. He originally took the class during the winter quarter, but due to a family emergency, had to temporarily leave school. Therefore, he was retaking the class in spring quarter, so he has already been exposed to the material before.

Throughout the trial, the location of Student X became essential to Dorfman proving his innocence. If Student X sat nearby, then Dorfman most likely would be guilty of cheating, but if Student X had not sat nearby then Dorfman couldn’t have possibly copied the answers. Despite the importance of Student X’s location in the case, UCSD refused to divulge information pertaining to Student X, claiming it was not relevant.

In the hearing transcript of Dorfman v. UCSD, a judge brought up the issue of the university having sole control over the information on Student X to Michael Goldstein, the attorney representing the Board of Regents of the University of California. “That’s always the case,” said Goldstein. The judge replied, “so you can accuse someone of cheating, fail to provide something you say could be dispositive, and a young man’s life is ruined?” 

In a later portion of the transcript, the judge also commented on the unilateral nature of case, saying, “it seems very one-sided to say well we decided this was enough and we’re not going to give the information to the defense to try to poke holes in it.” Goldstein countered by maintaining that it was university policy to not reveal the identity of the student that the accused student supposedly cheated off of to anyone.

Based on the university’s inability to disclose Student X’s location, the court ruled in favor of Dorfman. The Court also ruled that UCSD must notify Dorfman and the court forthwith for any future trials, and required the university to reveal the identity of Student X should they go to court again.

“I have never seen more affirmative evidence from a student that said he didn’t do it in a case,” said Ottilie. “It was the most egregious case from a university that I’ve ever seen.”

Natalie Lam is a News Writer for The Triton. She can be reached at nplam@ucsd.edu.