Museum Incident Starts Ethics Debate

Professor's Fax Actions Stir Questions

Semitic Museum documents which staff members say were duplicated without their knowledge did not figure into a grievance hearing involving the museum's director and curator, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles said yesterday.

The documents in question, which were transcribed by Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel Lawrence E. Stager, were not considered in the decision last month by the Office of Human Resources because they were not relevant to the particular grievance, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Associate Dean Polly Price said yesterday.

Price said the decision was not based on ethical issues. "There was no occasion to deal with ethical issues because at the end it didn't matter," Price said.

But museum staff members continue to insist that, regardless of the hearings procedures, Stager's conduct was unethical. The staff said he violated the privacy of staff and professors who use the fax machine.

"I can't believe this happened, especially in an academic setting," said Elizabeth Thyne, the museum's program and development coordinator. "We are horrified."


"I was really shocked that something like this could happen," said Associate Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture Ali S. Asani. "It's tricky...I think the procedure would have been to tell the staff."

Thyne sent a memo dated October 18 informing the faculty and staff of the Center for Jewish Studies, the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department and the Semitic Museum that portions of incoming and outgoing faxes can be reproduced from the cartridge of the fax.

"This means...that your fax communications have been subject to scrutiny, along with those of the Semitic museum," Thyne wrote in the memo.

Citing his position as director, Stager said he has the right to see all faxes sent and received at the museum--especially those concerning the fundraising activities of the museum.

"I see nothing wrong with it, he is the director and he should know about everything that is happening in the museum," said Piotr Steinkeller, professor of Assyriology. "There's nothing inappropriate or unethical."

Stager said Tuesday that he does not expect the issue to be discussed at any great length by the museum staff. But others say this incident is part of a larger ethical debate in an age of advanced technology.

"It is an ethical issue on a much broader scale," Price said. "It's an issue forthe community."

The legal implications of fax transcriptions isunclear, said Assistant Professor of Law Frank E.Vogel, who was present at the Office of HumanResources hearings.

"Whether it's a breach of law is one issue,"Vogel said. "But it certainly is a breach ofHarvard etiquette and it is that we should referto first...I think that if that happened, itappears to be a breach of the privacy of everyonewho uses that fax machine.