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Smith and Hammonds Express Regret, But Reaffirm Justification Behind Email Searches

Deans Maintain Searches Were Intended to Preserve Confidentiality of Ad Board Proceedings

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

In an interview with The Crimson last week, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith expressed regret over the handling of the search of Harvard resident deans’ email accounts.

Still, the administrators, who authorized the controversial searches, maintained that the searches were necessary to plug a breach in confidentiality.

Both Hammonds and Smith cracked a smile when asked whether things should have been done differently, saying that the answer was obvious. Proper policy was not in place at the time of the searches and communications mistakes were made, they said.

The hour-long interview was the Deans’ first sit-down with The Crimson since news of the covert searches broke on March 9, and the first with any media outlet since Hammonds announced to faculty at their monthly meeting on April 2 that she had broken FAS email privacy policy by authorizing a second round of searches of faculty, rather than administrative, accounts without Smith’s approval.

Since news of the searches became public, administrators have explained that they were intended to plug a leak of confidential Administrative Board documents related to the massive Government 1310 cheating investigation. Despite challenges to that claim by several College administrators who say that the email in question was neither confidential nor a leak, Smith and Hammonds reaffirmed that justification on Friday.

“All Administrative Board materials are confidential. That’s a statement of fact,” Hammonds said. Following this protocol, the forwarding of Ad Board emails is a breach of confidentiality.

Faculty email policy says that all searches of faculty accounts must be authorized by the FAS Dean and the University Office of the General Counsel. It also says that administrators must notify faculty members before or immediately after their accounts are searched.

Resident deans were not notified in this case.

Though Smith and Hammonds declined to comment on a number of specific decisions made at the time of the searches, they addressed several unanswered questions raised by the searches, clarifying procedure but leaving most policy justification unclear.

Smith and Hammonds affirmed that the University does view resident deans as members of the faculty, but maintained that they also have an additional administrative role and accompanying administrative email accounts not protected by the FAS policy.

“They show up to Faculty Council and sit on Faculty Council, so I can’t imagine you could categorize them any other way,” Smith said.

Smith also said that the Office of the General Counsel advised administrators on the legal implications of the case, as well as its compliance with Harvard policy. While he authorized the first round of searches with the OGC, he did not give approval for the second, meaning that in authorizing that search without Smith, Hammonds and the OGC violated FAS policy. Although Hammonds apologized to faculty for the breach, she declined to comment on why the General Counsel did not correct her erroneous March 11 statement which included no mention of the second round of searches.

The inconsistency in the deans’ statements has widened what many in the Harvard community have called a growing gap of trust between the Harvard community and administrators. Smith and Hammonds said Friday that they are receptive to faculty and student concerns and committed to improving communication.

“It’s entirely understandable that our community wants to know better how we’re thinking about it, where we’re going, what decisions are being made,” Smith said. “And, when the communication isn’t as robust as it needs to be, people start to worry.”

Part of improving communication, they said, means clarifying policies that are not sufficiently clear.

“We take email privacy very seriously for all of our community,” said Smith.

University President Drew G. Faust announced at the April 2 faculty meeting that she had commissioned an email privacy policy task force to review policies across the University and address ambiguity and inconsistencies that may exist. History professor Maya R. Jasanoff ’96, the vice-chair of the FAS Docket Committee, will lead a broader discussion about consultation and communication between faculty and administrators during the upcoming faculty meeting this Tuesday.

The deans did not comment publicly on whether or not administrators search student email accounts and what circumstances might warrant such searches.

—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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