Just days before Harvard announced its most sweeping plagiarism investigation in recent memory, the College tapped Brett Flehinger, resident dean of Lowell House and a lecturer in the history department, to fill a recently-created position in the College administration addressing academic integrity.
Flehinger was hired in mid-August as assistant dean of the College and associate secretary of the Administrative Board, Harvard’s disciplinary body, which is investigating the roughly 125 students accused of academic dishonesty in Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.”
Flehinger, who started his new position on Tuesday, will leave his job in Lowell but will continue in his role in the history department. Flehinger was not available to comment on his new position, but expressed mixed emotions about leaving Lowell in an Aug. 16 email to the House announcing his departure.
“Taking this job is bittersweet, primarily because it means I’ll be stepping down as resident dean, and I want to thank everyone in the House for the past three years,” Flehinger wrote. “Living with all of you has been an enriching, exciting, and heart-warming experience.”
Jeff Neal, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said the new position was created before Harvard began its cheating investigation. Neal wrote in an emailed statement that the position was first requested in February and then authorized in late April or early May. Neal did not return a request for comment on whether the cheating scandal fast-tracked the administration’s timeline for filling the job.
In mid- to late-May, assistant professor Matthew B. Platt alerted the Ad Board to suspiciously similar strings of words in between 10 and 20 final take-home exams in his spring course, a tip that led the Ad Board to later expand its investigation to about 125 students in the class.
In an Aug. 15 email to College administrators announcing the appointment, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds wrote that Flehinger would “provide a guiding role” in implementing campus programs addressing academic integrity. She also wrote that Flehinger would work with Secretary of the Ad Board John “Jay” Ellison to manage Ad Board cases, particularly ones involving academic misconduct.
The University also mentioned the appointment in its Aug. 30 announcement of the cheating investigation, writing that a newly-appointed administrator would focus on “building awareness among faculty and students about Harvard’s academic integrity policies.”
Lowell affiliates say Flehinger is known for his ability to connect and empathize with students, a trait that they say will serve him well in his new role with the Ad Board.
“Brett was very caring, very humorous, very irreverent,” House administrator Beth Terry said. “The student really like him.”
House resident David A. Ahmadi '13 described Flehinger as someone with “a natural ability to communicate with students and make them feel like they’re talking with an administrator who really understands what’s going on.”
House Committee Co-Chair Briana L. Jackucewicz ’13 said she has heard from friends in the House that Flehinger has been a valuable resource in helping them navigate the often stressful Ad Board process.
“I’ve gotten the impression people are extremely comfortable talking with him about those sort of things,” Jackucewicz said. “I know friends have always had positive experiences with Brett when they’re going through difficult situations.”
Flehinger, who was picked as Lowell’s new resident dean in 2009, will be replaced by interim resident dean Caitlin M. Casey, a lecturer in history and literature. Flehinger wrote in his email to the House that he will continue to live in Lowell House for most of the fall.
Before his new appointment, Flehinger had previously been a member of the Ad Board in his role as resident dean. He is also a former preceptor in the Expository Writing program, which teaches freshmen how to avoid plagiarism in their academic research and writing.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.