Administrators Secretly Searched Resident Deans' Email for Cheating Scandal Leak

Harvard administrators secretly accessed the email accounts of 16 resident deans in an attempt to determine who leaked communication regarding the Government 1310 cheating scandal that made its way to the media, the Boston Globe reported on Saturday evening.

The searches, reported on the basis of interviews with “several Harvard officials,” were for the origin of the leak of an internal email sent on Aug. 16 by Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison, the Globe reported. That internal email, in which Ellison advised his colleagues about how to counsel athletes and other students implicated in the scandal, had been forwarded by a resident dean to one of his students. The contents of that email were reported in The Crimson on Sept. 1, two days after the scandal broke.

Administrators informed the resident dean who had forwarded Ellison’s email of the search shortly after it occurred, but did not tell the other resident deans until after being approached by the Globe on Thursday. The resident dean in question, like all resident deans, sits on the Ad Board, the disciplinary body that handled the cases of alleged cheating.

The Globe article noted that administrators searched one of two Harvard email accounts belonging to resident deans—the account for administrative matters, rather than for personal ones. Also, Harvard information technology employees were told to look only for certain email subject lines and not to read the contents of messages themselves, the Globe reported.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy allows administrators to access faculty email accounts in “extraordinary circumstances such as legal proceedings and internal Harvard investigations,” according to a document on Harvard’s Information Security and Privacy website. In such cases, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the General Counsel must approve such a review, and the faculty member must be notified.

Resident deans, though, are not technically faculty. They are listed as “House Staff” on the Office of Student Life’s website and hold an administrative appointment which comes with some faculty privileges, but it is unclear what rules guide administrative access to their email accounts.

In a statement, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith did not rule out searching email accounts. He said that Harvard would take “all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity” of the Ad Board process if given reason to believe that the process had been “compromised.” He added that he would agree to take steps that struck a “balance between our needs to respect the privacy of our employees and to protect the privacy of our students.”

—Michelle Denise L. Ferreol and Jared T. Lucky contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nikitakansra@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @NikitaKansra.

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

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