A "significant" number of students at the University of Regina are suspected of cheating during, of all things, a law and ethics exam, CBC's iTeam has learned. 

This apparent breach is just the latest instance of academic dishonesty in the university's faculty of engineering. 

George Sherk

George Sherk, an instructor in the faculty of engineering at the University of Regina, regrets leaving teaching assistants in charge of the exam. (www.researchgate.net)

In February, George Sherk handed out a quiz to his fourth-year law and professionalism class, then left the students under the supervision of teaching assistants.

According to a Feb. 26 email from David deMontigny, the associate dean of engineering to the students, the university discovered "there may have been a significant amount of academic misconduct" during the quiz. 

"I trust that the irony of cheating in a law and ethics class is not lost on anyone," wrote deMontigny. "I am not impressed."

The university says deMontigny sent the email "after he received reports from two students indicating they had witnessed other students cheating on the quiz." 

Sherk said he regrets what happened.

"I have to take responsibility for that. If I had been in the room it may not have happened. Or if I had been in the room and seen it I could have taken action against students."

'For the remainder of the term, I strongly encourage everyone in the class to conduct their own independent work.' —David deMontigny, associate dean, of engineering

He said leaving the teaching assistants in charge put them in an awkward position: supervising an exam of their fellow students.

"I assumed more of some of the students than I should have." Referring to the last time he taught a similar course at another institution, he said, "I did not appreciate the extent to which cheating has become much more widespread than it was."

He said he won't make that mistake again.

Don't cheat, university urges

In an email to CBC News, the university indicated no students have been disciplined in this case because the students who reported the incident "did not provide the names of the students who were allegedly cheating and the invigilators that were in the class indicated they had not witnessed any misconduct occurring."

However in an email to all the students, deMontigny threatened action against any who are found to have cheated.

"For the remainder of the term, I strongly encourage everyone in the class to conduct their own independent work," he wrote. "If you are found to have cheated in ENGG 401, you will not graduate this year and you will forfeit your iron ring." An iron ring is presented to graduates of the engineering program.

Faculty of Engineering interior

The University of Regina's faculty of engineering says students found cheating will not graduate. (Geoff Leo/CBC)

There are more than 200 students in the class ENGG 401 - Law and Professionalism. More than half of the enrolled students don't attend the lectures; they just show up for the exams. The professors post their lecture notes online for the students.

Faculty is no stranger to cheating

There are 1,300 students in the faculty of engineering. The university has confirmed there were 82 cases of engineering students being disciplined in the 2015-16 academic year and 92 disciplinary actions were taken in the 2016-17 year. The university said those numbers represented all individual cases of discipline and that many students were disciplined more than once. 

In an email to CBC, the university says the faculty has taken steps to tackle cheating. It says administrators will be making unannounced visits to exam rooms during finals and that the faculty is stepping up its efforts to educate students about academic misconduct.

As CBC's iTeam has documented, the U of R's faculty of engineering has faced several concerns about academic misconduct over the past year.

Grades hacked

In October, the university discovered another case of academic misconduct in the faculty.

A student hacked into the university's grading system and, according to the university, the marks of 31 students in four engineering classes "were changed inappropriately."

In most cases, the grades were increased by as many as eight percentage points. However, five students' grades were lowered. 

In an email to CBC News, the university administration said an investigation identified the student responsible, and that student was expelled.

Teaching assistants bribed?

Also in October, CBC News revealed the university was warned professors "we have received allegations that some graduate student teaching assistants are being bribed to help students."

The email, also written by deMontigny, advised professors to "please discourage your graduate students from taking any bribes to help undergraduate students cheat."

He also warned that "there are reports of students breaking into professors' offices to get exams."

"The exams were then solved, and solutions were sold to willing buyers," deMontigny wrote.

Plagiarizing by professors

Two of the faculty's professors have been caught breaking the rules.

Last March, engineering professor Shahid Azam was reprimanded by Saskatchewan's engineering association for plagiarizing the work of one of his master's students.

In 2014, Alberta's engineering association found U of R professor Ezeddin Shirif guilty of submitting an article to an academic journal without giving credit to his masters's student.