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After Controversial Attendance Study, Committee Will Discuss Privacy

By Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 24, 2015, at 3:29 a.m.

After University President Drew G. Faust referred the discussion of news that researchers had photographed thousands of students last year without their knowledge to an electronic oversight committee, that body is discussing the broad implications related to privacy and expects to report back to her by the end of the term.

At last November’s meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Computer Science professor and now Interim Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Harry R. Lewis ’68 asked a question on behalf of two of his colleagues who he said had claimed that their spring 2014 classes were secretly photographed. Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol confirmed that he authorized the study and later informed thousands of students that they were photographed.

“The committee has not been charged with investigating or reporting on the attendance study,” the chair of the group, Harvard Law School professor John C. P. Goldberg, wrote in an email last month. He added that the “study served as a springboard for general discussions among committee members about privacy interests that may be at stake when classrooms are observed.”

Goldberg’s committee was formed after a recommendation from a task force convened in the wake of revelations that College administrators had secretly searched the email accounts of resident deans after the Government 1310 cheating scandal of 2012.

The Goldberg committee met in October and December to discuss general policy implications of the attendance study, rather than retrospectively investigating the incident, and will continue to meet in the spring, Goldberg said.

The committee is charged with reporting back to Faust about the ways Harvard has been overseeing the implementation of its electronic information policy, according to Goldberg. Faust said some report will be made available to the wider public after the committee presents its findings to her.

Faust said that while members of the committee decided the attendance study did not explicitly fall under the purview of the group’s charter, she hopes to learn more about how the University can keep up with what she described as a changing state of privacy.

“I guess we began to understand in the context of the email controversy that with all the things one can do with cameras and computers and so forth, privacy is so much in transformation [and] that we would be facing real scrutiny of ourselves about how to handle these issues,” Faust said.

Other members of the committee include English professor Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard Business School’s Executive Dean for Administration Angela Q. Crispi, the School of Public Health’s Executive Dean for Administration Michael Kan, Computer Science professor Greg Morrisett, and Harvard Medical School professor Barbara J. McNeil.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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