Faust Was Unaware of Secret Email Search

UPDATED: March 12, 2013, at 4:38 p.m.

University President Drew G. Faust was kept in the dark about the secret administrative search of resident deans’ email accounts to trace the origin of a media leak, she said in a statement Monday.

The covert search of email accounts was part of a broader investigation to identify who was responsible for leaking an internal email sent between administrators about the Government 1310 cheating case. The search was authorized by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and the University’s General Counsel, with the support of Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds.

Faust’s statement gave few details about what she did or did not know.

“Back in September, I was made aware that there was concern about a potential breach in the confidentiality of the process, and was told it had been resolved. But I was not informed of specifics,” she said in the statement.

A University official confirmed that Faust was not told of the subject-line search of emails.

In her statement, Faust said that after speaking to Smith and Hammonds, she believed that administrators had taken the necessary steps to protect student and Administrative Board confidentiality.

“I feel very comfortable that great care was taken to safeguard the privacy of all concerned, especially our students,” the statement said.

The question of whether Harvard broke its own privacy policies rests on whether resident deans’ email accounts are governed by the email privacy policy for faculty or staff—a distinction that FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal declined to clarify.

The faculty policy allows for searches of emails, but only when notice is given to the account owners. If this policy applies to the email accounts of resident deans, Harvard would have violated its rules.

The staff policy, on the other hand, allows administrators to access electronic files of non-faculty “at any time” and “for any business purpose” without requesting permission. If resident deans’ email accounts fall under the staff policy, Harvard would have remained consistent with its policies.

In her statement, Faust said the searches prompt legitimate questions about whether administrators were right to access accounts without prior notification.

“I share the view that questions about whether more resident deans should have been informed sooner are fair to ask,” Faust said. “And I believe that debates about the rights and responsibilities of members of our community are healthy.”

When asked about Faust’s statement, mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid, a vocal critic of Harvard’s handling of the cheating scandal and its fallout, said he had no doubt that Harvard acted within legal bounds in authorizing the search.

Still, he raised questions about the factors that influenced the decision regarding what to tell Faust.

“Obviously they must have had some misgivings if this became known,” Schmid said.

He added, “They certainly realized that if this became public, there might be quite a bit of negative faculty reaction.”

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached sweinstock@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.

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