Harvard Administrators’ Email Searched in Cheating Probe

According to The Boston Globe, administrators at Harvard University searched the email accounts of 16 resident deans in the wake of the leak on the school's cheating scandal last year. The searches were not disclosed and were done to determine who had originally given the information on the incident to the media.

The deans all sat on the university's Administrative Board which was charged with investigating the cheating allegations. According to Globe's sources, none of the people whose accounts were breached were informed of the action in advance and only one of the people affected was informed after.

The information about the widespread cheating in a university course came to light after one of the deans sent a confidential Administrative Board memo to a student advisee, who then passed it on the university's newspaper The Harvard Crimson. A disciplinary action for the forward is not expected and the name of the dean was not released.

The other 15 deans were left unaware their email accounts had been searched by administrators until the Globe approached Harvard with questions about the incident on Thursday, having learned of it from multiple Harvard officials who described it in detail. Those officials asked for anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

Harvard administrators said they would inform the remaining deans today — almost six months after the search.

Only the email accounts used for administrative business were searched by administrators. Typically, Harvard staff members have two accounts – one used for school-related business and the other for more personal correspondence. The personal accounts were not searched.

There's some dispute if the deans – who are not officially faculty members, but do have some teaching responsibilities – are protected by Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Science policy that guarantees email privacy, among other things.

"If reading the deans' email is really OK by the book, why didn't they just ask the deans who leaked the memo, threatening to read their email if no one came forward?" said Harry Lewis, a computer scientist and former dean of the college who helped draft its current email privacy policy for faculty. "Why not tell them what was being done if it was really an OK thing to do?"

In response to Globe's requests for interviews, Michael Smith, the dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, released a statement last week defending the search as necessary to protect the integrity of the Board's administrative process.

03 12, 2013
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