Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds’s admission that she ordered two additional, previously unreported searches of a resident dean’s email accounts comes as shocking, disappointing, and disheartening news to the Harvard community. Hammonds not only authorized the second round of searches without necessary permission of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith but also made a false statement to the press in which she and Smith said no additional searches had taken place. Nearly a year after the now-infamous Government 1310: "Introduction to Congress" final exam took place, the University community continues to receive news of missteps that threaten the trust essential to an academic environment. In the weeks ahead, the administration must reach out to the community to rebuild that trust. Since Hammonds provided misinformation regarding the highly sensitive issue of email searches, and since she violated clear policy regarding those searches, her presence at the helm of the College stands as a roadblock to rebuilding trust between students, faculty, and the administration. For the good of the University, Hammonds must resign.
While Hammonds’s apology to the faculty is admirable, it must be clear to every member of this community that actions have consequences. We must assume that Hammonds acted at all times with the best intentions of protecting student confidentiality and the integrity of the Ad Board process. Yet the inescapable fact is that Hammonds ordered two email searches—searches which are said to be conducted “very, very rarely”—and then “fail[ed] to recollect” her own, highly unusual authorization at the time of her March 11 statement on the first round of searches in March. After those searches, she inexplicably circumvented the requirement that Smith approve faculty email searches, and then promptly forgot about it. At a minimum, Hammonds negligently disregarded faculty legislation and breached the community’s trust. Her conduct is not acceptable for a Dean of Harvard College.
To further aggravate the air of mistrust surrounding Hammonds and the administration, additional searches came to light even after the administration made their disclosures at the faculty meeting. Smith and Hammonds failed to report that Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison’s emails had been searched, too, which he had himself requested. University President Drew G. Faust’s decision to appoint an independent counsel to investigate these email searches is a crucial step in repairing the broken trust, but the counsel’s report should seek to verify that there are not still more unreported searches. Those findings should also be made public.
The manner in which these searches were conducted damages Harvard as an institution and as a community. Harvard should be associated with great research, talented professors, and the highest level of academic excellence. Instead, these new revelations keep the focus on the cheating scandal and its regrettable aftermath. Although only a handful of people's accounts were searched, the nature of the searches and the failure to adhere to policy damages all of us. Students and faculty must have confidence in their administrators, and in the case of Hammonds, we do not.
Just as students must face repercussions for their actions—including the roughly 70 students who were forced to withdraw by the Ad Board in connection with the Gov 1310 case—so too must Hammonds take responsibility for her breach of conduct, as well intentioned as her decisions may have been. The Harvard community cannot allow this issue to pass without consequence.
Harvard needs to move beyond what has been a very challenging time. Whether it is developing the next medical breakthrough or educating a generation of public servants, the University has crucial tasks on the horizon. Administrators, too, have urgent work before them. House renewal, the upcoming capital campaign, and the uncertain effects of the federal budget sequestration require the administration’s full attention. With Hammonds’s resignation, Harvard can begin to bridge the rift of trust between the administration and the community it serves. Then we can turn to the important work ahead.
CLARIFICATION: April 5, 2013
A previous version of this editorial stated that Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison’s emails had been searched and that he was notified of the searches. To clarify, Ellison had himself requested the searches.