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With President's Charge, Email Policy Group Meets for the First Time

By Nicholas P. Fandos and Samuel Y. Weinstock, Crimson Staff Writers

A task force of 16 professors and deans pulled from nearly all of the University’s schools convened for the first time Monday to begin its task of reviewing existing University email privacy policies and recommending new ones.

The group, commissioned by University President Drew G. Faust amidst an ongoing email privacy scandal, includes a House Master, two directors of research centers, and minister of Memorial Church Jonathan R. Walton, according to a member list released to The Crimson on Monday.

During Monday’s introductory meeting, committee members got to know each other and went over their task at hand, a task force member wrote in an email.

The task force’s chair, Harvard Law School professor David J. Barron ’89, said that the group aims to complete its work by the end of the upcoming fall semester and present its recommendations to Faust by January 2014.

Barron said that Faust invited the 16 members to serve on the committee. A primary consideration in choosing the task force’s members, Barron added, was including representatives from all different parts of the University and incorporating a variety of perspectives and expertises.

“We wanted people with a range of experiences, both administrative and scholarly,” said Barron, a former Crimson president, going on to say, “It’s a good, representative committee, with a lot of experience.”

According to its charge, the task force will also reach out to students, faculty, and staff in an attempt to understand the perspectives of those groups. Barron added that the committee had already reached out to Undergraduate Council representatives.

“[Faust has] made clear she would like [the recommendations] to be subject to community discussion,” Barron said.

The task force will consider whether there should be a University-wide email policy in order to eliminate existing policy inconsistencies across schools, the charge says, reiterating what Faust said in an April 2 faculty meeting.

The charge never explicitly acknowledges the scandal that prompted its creation, but does say it will take into account “instructive examples at Harvard and elsewhere.” Still, the charge says the committee is “not expected to investigate or render judgments on past events.”

Email privacy policy first came under scrutiny in early March, when news broke that Harvard administrators had authorized secret searches of resident deans’ accounts to identify what administrators have called a leak of confidential Administrative Board information related to the Government 1310 cheating case. Administrators wrote in a March 11 statement that the searches had been limited to the deans’ administrative, rather that faculty, accounts.

That distinction highlighted the inconsistencies and grey areas in the two FAS policies—one governing faculty accounts, and the other, staff accounts. The faculty policy says that accounts can only be searched if the account user is notified before or shortly after the query takes place. Staff policy does not require notification.

Concerns about those policies intensified on April 2 when Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds revealed to faculty at their monthly meeting that she had authorized a second round of secret searches, which included queries of a single resident dean’s faculty email account. Those searches explicitly broke FAS policy because Smith did not authorize them.

Faust first announced the creation of the task force at that April 2 meeting. Citing inconsistencies between policies across the University, Faust called the current situation “highly inadequate.”

Faust also tasked Boston attorney Michael B. Keating with investigating the searches’ handling and authoring an independent report that will eventually be shared with the Harvard community.

“My reaction to the lack of university policies in this realm is that it constitutes a significant institutional failure to provide adequate guidance and direction in a digital environment that is a powerful and rapidly changing force in all of our lives,” Faust told the faculty members gathered for the meeting. ”I believe we need clear, visible, and well articulated policies and processes.”

Barron also said that he and the other members of the task force understand the gravity of their charge, and that he thinks the group’s recommendations could serve as a model for universities and other institutions that face questions related to email privacy.

“Everybody understands the seriousness of the questions we’re dealing with,” Barron said. “[Email policies are] a real challenge for not just this University, but a lot of different institutions.”

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.

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