The Harvard administration threatened to severely sanction a resident dean who shared with two students an internal email advising Administrative Board members on how to counsel undergraduates implicated in the Government 1310 cheating case, four College administrators said Monday.
Nearly a month after top administrators released a statement saying that the forwarded advising email was “an inadvertent error and not an intentional breach” by the resident dean in question, Cabot House Resident Dean Emily W. Stokes-Rees said that the administration gave a “strong indication that termination was a possibility” for her fellow resident dean at the time of the threat.
The threat is one of a number of concerns raised by resident deans since news broke last month that Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and the University’s Office of the General Counsel authorized secret searches of the resident deans’ administrative email accounts in an attempt to stop what they later characterized as a leak of information, including the advising email, to the media.
Those concerns intensified after Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds told faculty at their monthly meeting last Tuesday that she had authorized an additional, previously unknown round of searches of the administrative and faculty email accounts of a single resident dean identified by the original search.
A College administrator familiar with the details of the investigation, who asked to remain anonymous because of its confidential nature, said that the resident dean was warned at the time of the searches in September that an additional mistake similar to the sharing of the advising email, even if accidental, would result in a severe sanction.
FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal declined to comment Monday night on the sanctions threatened against the resident dean in question.
Senior Resident Dean Sharon L. Howell and another resident dean who asked to remain anonymous said that the threat calls into question the accuracy of a March 11 statement by Smith and Hammonds which indicated that administrators decided “not to take further action” after the first round of searches of all the resident deans’ accounts.
“Although the Resident Dean’s actions violated the expectations of confidentiality surrounding the Administrative Board process, those involved in the review and the conversation with the individual were sufficiently convinced that it was an inadvertent error and not an intentional breach,” the statement read.
Howell, Stokes-Rees, the anonymous resident dean, and the College administrator all took issue with the characterization that the forwarding of the email was “inadvertent” and a “breach.”
The information in the advising email, authored by Secretary of the Ad Board John “Jay” L. Ellison, was intended to reach students implicated in the case, they say, and the resident dean in question was just trying to help students deciding whether or not to withdraw from the College.
“This was not an inadvertent forward; it was an advising moment,” Howell said. “I think this is something that any of us could have done.”
Howell added that the email did not include any confidential information, and thus did not amount to a “loss of confidentiality,” as Hammonds described it in her prepared remarks at last Tuesday’s faculty meeting.
The confidentiality statement attached to Ellison’s email indicates that it may “contain confidential or proprietary information and may be subject to confidentiality protections.” But it does not say that the email may not be forwarded by recipients, only specifying that unintended recipients “may not review, copy or distribute this message.”
Resident deans also contested Hammonds’s defense that she made her decision “to secure the confidentiality and integrity of the Ad Board’s process and prevent disclosures of student identities and cases to the media.” Implicit in that explanation, they said, is the suggestion that resident deans were not trusted to safeguard student privacy.
In order for resident deans to do their jobs, “students need to feel confident in our communication,” Howell said.
Stokes-Rees added that the searches have already created anxiety among some students, who are more hesitant to trust the confidentiality of their interactions with resident deans.
“I have students who I have corresponded with over the past few months becoming very, very nervous about whether the content of our correspondence could have been viewed, as well as parents of students expressing concern,” Stokes-Rees said.
In addition to the challenges posed by resident deans, Smith and Hammonds’s original March 11 statement contained a number of inconsistencies.
While it said that the searches had been limited to a subject-line query of the administrative email accounts of all resident deans, at last Tuesday’s faculty meeting, Hammonds cited her “failure to recollect” the additional queries, which included the names of Crimson reporters covering the Government 1310 case as search terms and probed both the administrative and faculty accounts of the resident dean identified in the first search.
In her remarks, Hammonds also said she had authorized that second search with the approval of the Office of the General Counsel. Neal declined to comment Monday night why the General Counsel did not correct the original statement.
Resident deans claimed that these continued inconsistencies offered by administrators, particularly Hammonds, have strained the trust so vital to the function of the Ad Board. Though they are not the only members, all resident deans sit on the Ad Board.
Stokes-Rees said the breach of trust between Hammonds and the resident deans is not irreparable, but will require each to be willing to work to a solution moving forward.
Hammonds made a public apology in her appearance at the faculty meeting last week, and though she has not yet addressed the resident deans as a group, she has begun to meet with them individually, Howell said.
The Ad Board is scheduled to meet for its regular meeting Tuesday afternoon for the first time since Hammonds announced the second round of searches.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.