Keating Report Corroborates Administrators’ Account of Email Search Scandal

Faust says report 'deepens my already substantial concerns about troubling failures' associated with searches

No Writer Attributed

A highly anticipated independent report commissioned by the University corroborates Harvard administrators’ most recent account of the email search scandal, concluding that Harvard officials did not knowingly break faculty email privacy policy when they secretly probed resident deans’ email accounts last September in an effort to plug a leak of information connected to the Government 1310 cheating scandal.

The 28-page report, released Monday afternoon, details a chronology of events pieced together by Boston attorney Michael B. Keating, whom University President Drew G. Faust publicly called upon in April to verify the findings of the University’s initial investigation into the searches, some of which explicitly violated faculty email privacy policy.

Keating’s report concludes that Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators were “acting in good faith” when they conducted the searches, believing they were proceeding in accordance with existing email privacy policy. It says that neither the administrators who approved the searches nor any attorney at the Office of General Counsel were aware of an FAS policy posted online that outlines the necessary notification and authorization procedures for accessing faculty records. Though the policy does not specify whether it refers to administrative or faculty accounts, some of the procedures it outlines were not followed in the subsequent searches.

The report also affirms administrators’ claims that in conducting their searches, they did not read the contents of any of the searched emails. It also confirmed Faust’s statement that she was kept in the dark about the searches as they happened, revealing that she was unaware of them until March.

In a statement in response to Keating’s report, Faust said that she is “reassured” by Keating’s finding that the involved administrators were “acting in good faith” and in a way that they believed was in accordance with policy.

However, Faust said that “the detailed factual account in Mr. Keating’s report deepens my already substantial concerns about troubling failures of both policy and execution. The findings strengthen my view that we need much clearer, better, and more widely understood policies and protocols in place to honor the important privacy interests that we should exercise the utmost vigilance to uphold.”

In her statement, Faust also said she plans to announce “interim protocols governing any searches of emails at the University.” In April, Faust announced the creation of a task force chaired by Law School professor David J. Barron ’89, a former Crimson president, to recommend a comprehensive new email privacy policy. That task force, composed of 16 professors and deans, convened for the first time in May and plans to present its recommendations to Faust by January 2014.

In March, news broke that FAS Dean Michael D. Smith and the University’s General Counsel had authorized a set of secret searches of all the resident deans’ administrative accounts after internal communications related to the Government 1310 case were published in media reports.

Then, at the faculty’s monthly meeting in April, then-Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds announced that she had authorized a second set of searches of a single resident dean’s faculty and administrative accounts without the necessary permission, contradicting her previous statement on the matter. According the email privacy policy that Keating’s report says was not consulted by the decision-makers, such an action would have required the approval of both the FAS Dean and the OGC. Because Hammonds did not receive authorization from Smith, these searches explicitly violated faculty privacy policy. After weeks of speculation that this move would spell the end of her tenure as dean, her departure, though not attributed to the controversy, was made official in May.

Keating’s report does not address the circumstances surrounding Hammonds’s departure. It also does not address claims made by four College administrators that Harvard officials threatened to severely sanction the resident dean who shared an internal email advising Administrative Board members on how to counsel students accused in the Government 1310 case. Administrators have said that the eventual leak of that email to the press was a motivating factor for the searches.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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