In Wake of Email Scandal, Professors Mourn Loss of Trust
Four days after news broke that Harvard administrators secretly searched the email accounts of 16 resident deans last September, professors called on administrators to address what one called a corroding of a “culture of trust” between the faculty and its leaders.
“There’s a lot of discussion now about trust. At some level that is really the underlying issue,” former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 said. “Do we trust the University administration to follow the rules and do we trust the University administration to exercise good judgment in interpreting the rules?”
In the immediate aftermath of a Boston Globe report that broke the story on Saturday, professors’ questions primarily centered on how and why the searches occurred.
On Monday, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds issued a joint statement explaining some of the details of the search, which was part of a larger investigation into the source of a media leak regarding the Government 1310 cheating case.
As the dust began to settle following Monday’s statement, professors began to pose broader questions about why the University dared to secretly search its own faculty.
“I think that people have a few questions about why the resident deans were still not informed about the searches,” said history professor Maya R. Jasanoff '96. “I think that there is still more room for a fuller apology. Many faculty members would like to be reassured that this kind of thing has not happened in the past and won’t happen again.”
Several faculty members interviewed Wednesday referenced a letter sent by Senior Resident Dean Sharon L. Howell to University President Drew G. Faust, which asked for a broader consideration of University policy and ethics.
“I think that I think Dean Howell’s letter ends on a note that I would share, which is the sense that there really is a bigger question here about what is it that makes a university different than a corporation?” Jasanoff said.
Following Howell’s letter, professors have begun to express concern directly to deans.
According to History professor Charles S. Maier '60, many members of the History Department have signed a letter “expressing concern” over the searches and the handling of the investigation.
“The faculty I think has to be willing to take responsibility if it doesn’t want these events to happen,” Maier said in an interview earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the Faculty Council became the first faculty body to address Smith directly on the subject at its regularly scheduled meeting, Jasanoff said. Professors would not disclose the nature of the exchange because the meetings are confidential.
Jasanoff and others said they expect faculty will formally question administrators about the searches at April’s faculty meeting.
Even as faculty begin to take up larger issues of institutional integrity, mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid said he is worried that faculty are too quickly setting aside the cheating scandal itself. Though the email searches must be addressed by faculty, he said, he believes the cheating case should be of greater concern.
“The faculty seems to be spending a lot of time on this email, but the underlying cause, what might have caused the cheating, nobody seems to care about,” Schmid said. “I find it very strange that nobody seems to make the connection.”
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.