The email accounts of several Harvard staff members were searched without their knowledge while the university was looking for information about who had leaked details about its recent cheating scandal. The email accounts of 16 resident deans were searched and many of them only found out about the incident because of reporting by The Boston Globe. Resident deans live in undergraduate residential houses and have dual roles as administrators and faculty members.
An administration memo to the deans telling them how to advise students who were being charged with cheating was leaked to The Globe in August, reports the NY Times. Prior to the memo getting out, Harvard publicly admitted that “nearly half” the students in a large class were under suspicion of cheating on a take-home exam.
The students were believed to have either been working together or simply plagiarizing answers from one another. There were 279 students enrolled in the government class in question. The case was especially notable because students in the class, many of whom were student athletes, either left school or were forced to resign.
Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in a prepared statement: “If circumstances were to arise that gave reason to believe that the Administrative Board process might have been compromised, then Harvard College would take all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity of that process, which is designed to protect the rights of our students to privacy and due process,”.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy on electronic privacy states that administrators can search faculty members’ electronic records “in extraordinary circumstances such as legal proceedings and internal Harvard investigations.” Faculty members are supposed to be notified prior to such a search taking place, “unless circumstances make prior notification impossible, in which case the faculty member will be notified at the earliest possible opportunity.” That obviously did not happen in this case.
Source: (NY Times)