Harvard administration spied on staff emails

Faculty angered by privacy breach after cheating scandal leaks

Published March 11, 2013 6:20PM (EDT)


Following leaks to the media on student cheating scandal at Harvard, the university administration spied on staff emails in an attempt to locate the source of the leak. Faculty members have reacted with fury since this privacy invasion was revealed this weekend.

Via the New York Times:

Last fall, the administrators searched the e-mails of 16 resident deans, trying to determine who had leaked an internal memo about how the deans should advise students who stood accused of cheating. But most of those deans were not told that their accounts had been searched until the past few days, after The Boston Globe, which first reported the searches, began to inquire about them.

Rather than the searches being kept secret from the resident deans, “they should’ve been asked openly,” said Richard Thomas, a professor of classics. “This is not a good outcome"... On his blog, which is closely followed by many people at Harvard, Dr. Lewis called the administration’s handling of the search “dishonorable,” and, like some of his colleagues, said the episode would prompt him to do less of his communication through his Harvard e-mail account, and more through a private account.

According to the Boston Globe Monday, Harvard has issued a "partial apology":

According to a joint statement issued this morning by Dean Michael D. Smith and Evelynn M. Hammonds, the Administrative Board convened at the end of the summer to discuss the confidential e-mail, sent to the Resident Deans, had been leaked to the media.

"The situation was shared with the entire Board, including with all Resident Deans,” the statement said. “It was made clear at that time that absent clarification of what happened, an investigation would be required. No one came forward.”

After consulting university lawyers, “very narrow, careful, and precise subject-line search was conducted by the University’s IT Department. It was limited to the Administrative accounts for the Resident Deans – in other words, the accounts through which their official university business is conducted, as distinct from their individual Harvard email accounts.’’

Harvard internal policy dictates that the administration can search a Harvard faculty e-mail account as part of an internal investigation,but that it must notify the faculty member beforehand or soon after. In this case, however, notification followed a whole six months later.


By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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