Senior Resident Dean Critiques Administrators' Actions

Senior Resident Dean Sharon L. Howell became the first of Harvard’s resident deans to publicly challenge the way that administrators handled their covert search of resident deans’ email accounts last fall and the fallout since the search came to light on Saturday.

In a Boston Globe article published Tuesday morning, Howell directly contested a statement issued Monday by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds, saying that administrators had “immediately informed” Howell of the searches and their results after they occurred. Last September, administrators covertly accessed resident deans’ email accounts as part of an investigation, which sought to identify the source of a leak of information pertaining to the Government 1310 cheating case.

Howell, the highest-ranking Harvard resident dean, said that while she spoke with Hammonds and other College officials about the possibility of a search before it happened, she was not informed afterward that the search had ultimately taken place. That notification did not come until the Globe contacted Harvard with the story last week.

In a separate interview with The Crimson on Tuesday, Howell also said she was concerned about the suggestion disseminated in media reports that resident deans may not be faculty—a distinction that could determine whether the University broke its own policy by secretly searching resident deans’ accounts.

“I’ve been really disheartened by the coverage that has implied over and over again that resident deans are not faculty members,” Howell said. “We’re voting members of the faculty.”

Harvard officials have not clarified which email privacy policy—faculty or staff—governs the email accounts of resident deans. While the faculty policy requires administrators to notify the account owner before a search or as soon as possible after it occurs, the policy pertaining to staff does not require any notification prior to or after a search.

Howell raised the concern once more in a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, while calling for a new and broader “conversation about integrity at Harvard.”

“What has so far been parsed in media accounts are the technical details of what happened here, but we think the more important questions this situation raises is about a critical trust as the heart of Harvard’s culture that is ours—yours—to protect or not,” Howell wrote in the letter, which was dated Monday.

Howell added that she and many other resident deans felt “dismay” upon hearing of the searches that took place “without our knowledge,” and that she worries the covert search set a dangerous tone for the University as a whole.

“Is this who we want to be? Do we want to forgo open communication in favor of secrecy and face-saving?” Howell asked in the letter. “I think that we should be able to expect more from our leaders, especially in moments of stress, when we need more than ever to work together and trust one another.”

Administrators have yet to publicly address Howell’s charges. Smith, who authorized the email search along with the University General Counsel, attended Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Administrative Board meeting, an unusual step given that he is not a member of the Board. Whether or not he addressed the assembled resident deans directly is uncertain.

Faust said in a statement Monday that she had not known about the email searches when they were happening. She said she only knew about the leaks that prompted the broader investigation and the issue’s “resolution.”

—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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