Posted on January 11, 2013

‘You Can’t Be the Director of Education and Plagiarizing’: Chris Spence Resigns as Head of School Board

Megan O’Toole and Chris Selley, National Post, January 11, 2013

The man who oversees the education of 250,000 Toronto students resigned Thursday after the National Post uncovered evidence suggesting he is a serial plagiarist, and as more investigation finds yet further evidence of copied material in his public writings.

Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence, a former football player and educator hired to the board’s top job in 2009, said the move came after extensive consultation with family and friends.

Chris Pence

Chris Pence

“My life’s work has been education, and the education of young people,” Mr. Spence noted in a resignation letter released by the Daisy Consulting Group, a public-relations firm he hired to deal with the fallout.

In apologizing for his transgressions, Mr. Spence cited “great sadness and regret,” but said he no longer wished to be a “distraction” to the board.

“More than anything else, I regret that I have not set a good or proper example for the many thousands of young people I’ve been privileged to meet and know,” Mr. Spence said. “I intend to continue to do the things I pledged to do — to restore my reputation, and to uphold the academic integrity I consider to be so important. But most importantly, to make amends for what I have done.”

Through a spokeswoman, he declined further comment.

The Spence saga began to unfold Wednesday, when the energetic and popular director admitted to plagiarizing portions of an opinion piece on the importance of extracurricular sports that appeared in the Toronto Star last weekend.

A follow-up investigation by the Post revealed numerous other instances of apparent plagiarism in Mr. Spence’s columns, speeches and personal blog.

Even his doctoral thesis contains some passages that do not appear properly attributed, although much of the document is meticulously sourced.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Post was still finding additional instances of apparent plagiarism. In many cases, Mr. Spence appears to have pulled verbatim material from three or four different sources and repurposed them into a single work without attribution.

In other cases, he seems to have relied heavily on a single source. A September 2010 blog posting about social justice in education contains numerous passages that echo a story in a Virginia University publication, including the following word-for-word segment: “I am deeply concerned about an education that is narrowly defined as academic achievement in basic skills. Reading, writing and arithmetic are only important if they serve to make students humane.”

Just last March, at a TEDx talk in Stouffville, Mr. Spence told a story in which he says he visited a Grade 2 girl who was drawing a beautiful picture. “I’m drawing God,” she said. “But no one’s ever seen God before,” he said, to which she replied: “Well, they will in a minute.”

It was a lovely story. It was also an exact replica of a well-known tale frequently recounted by renowned educator Sir Kenneth Robinson.

Mr. Spence, who earned close to $300,000 in salary and benefits last year, steps down effective immediately. TDSB chair Chris Bolton vowed to ensure “stability” in the wake of his departure, noting Donna Quan, the board’s deputy director of academics, will become interim director — a move the board is expected to confirm at a special meeting Friday.

“As soon as information is available, staff, students and their families will be informed of any further developments,” Mr. Bolton said. The board’s last search for a director took about eight months, he said.