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A social studies office worker said she was fired this week after administrators discovered provocative posts in her online journal, including threats to fellow workers and superiors.
For the past two years, Amy Norah Burch, an undergraduate coordinator for the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, included a link to her personal website, www.AnnoyYourFriends.com, in her e-mail signature. The site, in turn, included a link to her online blog, which contained hundreds of posts about music, politics and her social life.
Sarah Champlin-Scharff, the social studies department administrator and Burch’s supervisor, refused to comment on Burch’s firing. Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Robert P. Mitchell confirmed that Burch is no longer employed by Harvard.
But Burch said that a handful of unflattering references to her workplace interspersed throughout the site’s archives raised eyebrows at the department.
“Work is aggravating me,” she wrote in an April 28 entry on the publicly accessible journal, the contents of which have since been taken offline. “I am one shade lighter than homicidal today. I am two snotty e-mails from professors away from bombing the entire Harvard campus.”
Burch said her supervisor read the journal after following the link in her signature.
According to a social studies concentrator who has worked closely with Burch, problems began two weeks ago when Burch was told that her e-mail signature—which, in addition to the journal link, contained a quote from feminist punk musician Kathleen Hanna—was inappropriate. Burch said her Harvard e-mail account was shut down, and she was placed on paid suspension from work while the Office of Human Resources and her supervisors administered a full investigation.
Burch said she had a meeting with her supervisors and her union representative on Monday, during which Champlin-Scharff presented her with printouts from the weblog and questioned her about them. According to Burch, the Hanna quote turned out to be only a secondary concern for the department—the journal link was the real reason for her dismissal.
“They only printed any entries where Norah may have been frustrated or just plain having a bad day,” the social studies concentrator wrote in an e-mail to the Crimson. “They apparently did everything short of outright calling her a terrorist and unstable.”
One of Burch’s entries referred to her supervisors by first name, bemoaning Director of Undergraduate Studies Anya Bernstein’s “random freaking out” and Champlin-Scharff’s “anal retentive control freakishness.”
In one entry, Burch said she was “ready to get a shotgun and declare open season on all senior faculty members and students who dared cross [her].”
“It was definitely not my intention to slander anyone and I wasn’t trying to stir things up as they seemed to be implying,” she said. “I just sort of used the blog as a way to let off steam.”
Burch said that the weblog did not affect her job performance in any negative way.
“Most of it is total heat of the moment stuff,” said Burch. “I’m not dangerous and I don’t wish anyone harm or malice and I don’t even dislike anybody. I just had momentary frustration and the blog was a good way to get it out so I can get on with things.”
The student, who corresponded with The Crimson on the condition of anonymity, said the Social Studies department would be losing a valuable employee.
“If you meet Norah, she’s very friendly, helpful and has a very genial personality,” the student wrote in the e-mail. “She has always gone out of her way to help social studies students with whatever they may need—everything from setting aside personal time to help them with thesis ideas and scheduling to answering any questions they may have.”
Associate Dean for Administrative Resources Geoffrey M. Peters would not comment on the University’s policy regarding privacy and free speech, and it remains unclear whether the public nature of the weblog has any bearing on Burch’s firing.
Burch said she does not plan to appeal the decision.
As of yesterday afternoon, Burch had deleted the contents of her blog, replacing the archives with a single entry: “Voyeurism is bad. Please go peep someplace else, Tom.”
—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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