04/10/2012 05:38 EDT | Updated 06/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Academic dishonesty charge made against Ontario council on education quality

TORONTO - A public agency that aims to help improve Ontario's universities through solid research came under fire Tuesday for alleged academic dishonesty for publishing an altered research paper.

In a letter to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, two graduate students say the council published their changed research without their knowledge or consent.

The Queen's University students, Jennifer Massey and Sean Field, are demanding an apology and that the offending material be replaced on the council's website with their final submission.

"We are concerned because we believe these changes constitute a breach of academic and intellectual integrity by (the council)," Massey and Field write council president Harvey Weingarten.

"Nowhere does the report indicate that the text was substantially altered without knowledge or consent of the authors after final submission, or by whom."

In fact, an attached disclaimer states that the opinions expressed in the research document "are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or official polices of the (council)."

Massey, who is now in Texas, was lead researcher on the $45,000 report funded through Queen's by the arm's-length government agency.

The research evaluated a student-led pilot project aimed at keeping first-year students from dropping courses and helping them achieve better results.

Essentially, their paper concluded that such student-led learning groups are worthwhile but aren't a panacea.

In an interview from Kingston, Ont., Field said there had been "much back and forth and several rounds of revisions" before they submitted their final draft to the council last June.

Much to their surprise and dismay, he said, the paper suddenly appeared on the council's website in late February under an altered title and with substantive changes the authors had expressly rejected.

"It looks like the changes that they wanted and we said we wouldn't make — we made all the other changes they asked for — they just went ahead and made them anyway," said Field, a geography doctoral student.

In response, the council blamed Massey for submitting a research paper that was months late and "not acceptable" for release.

"Despite repeated commitments to complete the report, Jennifer Massey never submitted a final report, and by August 2011 she was no longer responding to our repeated email queries," Weingarten said.

As a result and after discussions with Queen's, Weingarten said, it was decided other staff at the university would "complete the final revisions to produce a publication-ready final report."

The school's director of institutional research and planning then delivered the final report to the council in December 2011, 18 months after the original due date.

"(The council) neither wrote nor inserted or deleted any portions of the final report," Weingarten said.

"Queen’s University chose to proceed with final revisions, which we subsequently published."

Field said it was still wrong to publish the altered material under the authors' names without their consent no matter who made the changes.