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Queen's University
 

Priya Singh and the University of British Columbia [2011] No. 369

Under what conditions must universities allow “extraordinary relief” for students with mental disabilities?  

Facts:

Ms. Priya Singh enrolled in the Diploma in Accounting Program (DAP) at the University of British Columbia in 2007.   She had completed a bachelor of art’s degree in history from UBC in 2004. Based on her weak transcript, she was put on academic probation for the DAP; she was required to receive an average of 65% in order to remain in the program. In her first year, Ms. Singh completed five courses, passing one and failing the remaining four.  In the fall semester, she was told that she would be required to withdraw from the program after writing her last deferred exam in April 2008.

In BUSI 294, one of the four courses for which she obtained a failing grade, Ms. Singh had been offered an accommodation for a mental disability. In the Spring semester of 2007, she had suffered panic attack during an exam. The University arranged for her to rewrite the exam in December 2007 under the proviso that if she failed to write that make-up exam at that time, she would fail the course.  Rather than write the exam in December 2007, Ms Singh instead rewrote the exam in April 2008, without authorization, after auditing the course without permission.  The University refused to mark the exam.

Ms. Singh appealed from her four failures.

-          For BUSI 294, She claims that she refused to write the make-up exam in December because the Access and Diversity Office had failed to make arrangements for her (she required private space and extra time). Therefore, the University should grade her April exam.

-          For the remaining three exams, she claimed that her mental disability (a general anxiety disorder) had negatively affected her ability to pass her exams. She should therefore be offered the opportunity to rewrite the exams or else withdraw retroactively from the course.  

The Appeals Committee requested documentation from both the Access and Diversity Office and the Faculty. The Access and Diversity Office stated that the student had failed to request accommodation for the December exam in a timely manner but recommended that the University allow the student to withdraw retroactively from the three other classes, on the basis of her disability. The Faculty concurred with the assessments and recommendations of the Access and Diversity Office. It therefore agreed to allow the student to withdraw retroactively from three of the four failed courses, but held that she maintain a failing grade in BUS 294.

Not satisfied with these recommendations, Ms. Singh contacted the Access and Diversity Office and requested that it modify its recommendations regarding BUSI 294.  The Office did not seek to modify its recommendations and informed Ms. Singh that “once an appeal statement is submitted we do not comment further on it”. Ms. Singh interpreted this to mean that the Office wanted to change its recommendation but had been refused.  At the hearing of the Appeals committee, Ms. Singh made arguments based on that interpretation and then expanded the relief she was seeking to include the expunging of all 19 failing grades from her undergraduate transcript based on her mental disability.

The Appeals committee determined that Ms. Singh be allowed to withdraw retroactively from three of the four failed DAP courses.  For BUSI 294, it refused to allow her to be evaluated based on the writing of an unauthorized exam. Similarly, it refused to expunge the 19 failing grades from her undergraduate transcript. Ms Singh requested and was refused extra time to collect further evidence supporting the latter request.

Ms. Singh appealed from the Appeals Committee’s decision. The Court decided not to interfere with the University’s decision. She then appealed the lower court’s ruling to the Appeal Court.

Arguments

-          To the Court of Appeal, Ms. Singh argued

  1. That the Access and Diversity Office was barred from changing its recommendations, that the Appeal’s committee thereby excluded evidence and that as a result the process was unfair.
  2. That the Appeal’s committee should have adjourned the hearing to give her more time to collect evidence to support her request to have her failing grades expunged
  3. That the Appeal’s committee did not give full effect to her evidence of mental disability

 Issue

-          Is there any basis for interfering with the lower court’s decision to uphold the University’s decision?

Decision

-          No

Reasoning:

The Court addressed all three arguments:

  1. The evidence does not establish that the Access and Diversity Office was prohibited from modifying its recommendation. It does establish that the Appeals Committee considered all the evidence before it.
  2. Ms. Singh was “afforded every opportunity to present her case” and the Appeals Committee was not obliged, by the rules of procedural fairness, to extend the hearing.
  3. The Court of Appeal deferred to the Appeals Committee’s judgement, using the standard of reasonableness.  “It cannot be said that the decision in this case was unreasonable. There was evidence supporting the decisions reached by the Appeals Tribunal. Nor, in my view, was the decision a perverse one, as Ms. Singh seems to suggest. It was open for the for the Appeals Committee to grant a right to withdrawal from recent courses without otherwise reopening an academic record that stretched back many years. Equally, it was open to it to deny relief to Ms. Singh in respect of exam accommodation where she had chosen not to comply with the well-publicized rules of the university. Finally, the fact that the Appeals’ Committee was indulgent in respect of certain requests for extraordinary relief did not compel it to be similarly indulgent tin respect of others. “

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000