Smith Believes He Opened Email Detailing Search He Has Claimed No Knowledge Of

FAS spokesperson reiterates Smith’s claim that he did not authorize, know about controversial email search

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said through a spokesperson Wednesday that he believes he opened but did not closely read an email detailing plans for a controversial search that he has said and continues to maintain he had no knowledge of until six months after it was conducted.

The September 2012 email describing the planned search was unearthed in a report compiled by Boston attorney Michael B. Keating that was made public on Monday. According to Keating’s report, an attorney in Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel forwarded to Smith an email instructing a Harvard University Information Technology employee to work with an IT vendor to search a resident dean’s administrative email account for correspondence with two Crimson reporters.

That search was part of the second of two rounds of secret email searches that administrators said were intended to identify the source of a leak of confidential Administrative Board communications regarding the Government 1310 cheating case that appeared in The Crimson and other news outlets in September 2012. Smith authorized the first round of searches, which were first reported by the Boston Globe in early March of this year.

Shortly after the Globe’s report, on March 11, Smith and then-Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds released a joint statement acknowledging that together they had authorized a single round of searches that queried only the resident deans’ administrative email accounts. After that search identified the source of the forwarded email, they said, no further action was taken.

But on April 2, Hammonds revealed that without Smith’s approval she had authorized a second round of searches of a single resident dean’s administrative and faculty email accounts. Standing alone at a packed faculty meeting, Hammonds took sole administrative responsibility for those searches, including the search of the administrative account that Smith was notified about by email. Because neither of those searches were approved by Smith, Hammonds had violated a policy that requires approval of the FAS Dean for searches of faculty emails.

At that same faculty meeting, University President Drew G. Faust announced that she had tasked Keating with investigating the searches. His report, the product of three months of investigation, is the first indication that the OGC attempted to at least inform Smith of one of the two illicit searches.

FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal emphasized in an emailed statement that despite the OGC’s email, Smith “was never asked to authorize this search, nor did he do so.”

The OGC’s email began with the line, “FYI. There has been some recent additional correspondence on this matter.” But, according to Neal, the email’s first page made no mention of the search for correspondence with the Crimson reporters in the resident dean’s account.

Keating said in an interview Tuesday that he found, based on an interview with Smith, that Smith opened the email, but “did not focus” on the description of the second search. Neal corroborated that account, writing that Smith believes he did open the email, but “as it appeared to contain no new information, he did not read past the first page.”

Neal and Keating also affirmed Smith’s remarks to faculty at their April meeting that he did not learn of the second round of email searches until March, after a conversation in an Administrative Board meeting prompted him to ask HUIT to reconstruct for him the series of events surrounding the searches.

“At that particular time, [Smith] decided to go back through all of his emails that bore on this particular topic and discovered the email that he apparently had seen before but had not focused on,” Keating said.

Smith never mentioned the OGC’s email in his remarks at the faculty meeting.

Hammonds was faulted by both students and faculty for authorizing the second round of searches. She stepped down from her post on July 1, though she said that her decision to do so was unrelated to the email search scandal.

Part of that criticism stemmed from Hammonds’s violation of the FAS email privacy policy, which would have required her to obtain Smith’s authorization for the searches. Keating’s report, however, found that decision-makers believed that appropriate officials authorized each of the two rounds of searches. The report contains a footnote stating that neither OGC attorneys nor administrators who approved the searches were aware of the policy’s existence in 2012.

“The truth of the matter is that no one knew that policy existed. OGC had no record that it had ever been adopted or approved,” Keating told The Crimson after his report was released. “You have to have these policies in a place where everyone can find them and everyone understands them.”

The footnote said that OGC consults the website or handbook for the relevant school—in this case, FAS—when determining compliance, but the policy was posted on the University’s information security and privacy website, rather than the FAS website.

Because Keating found that administrators reviewed and followed the appropriate policies, he reported that, in searching email accounts, they acted “in good faith,” a term that he said indicates the administrators acted with the legitimate interests of students in mind.

“There was no ulterior motive,” he said. “I can't even imagine what it would be.”

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

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