Dear Commons Community,
Faculty members at Harvard criticized the university yesterday after revelations that administrators secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans in an effort to learn who leaked information about a student cheating scandal to the news media. Some predicted that it would lead to a confrontation between the faculty and the administration.
“I was shocked and dismayed,” said the law professor Charles J. Ogletree. “I hope that it means the faculty will now have something to say about the fact that these things like this can happen.”
News of the e-mail searches prolonged the fallout from the cheating scandal, in which about 70 students were forced to take a leave from school for collaborating or plagiarizing on a take-home final exam in a government class last year.
Harry R. Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, said, “People are just bewildered at this point, because it was so out of keeping with the way we’ve done things at Harvard.”
“I think what the administration did was creepy,” said Mary C. Waters, a sociology professor, adding that “this action violates the trust I once had that Harvard would never do such a thing.”
Last fall, the administrators searched the e-mails of 16 resident deans, trying to determine who had leaked an internal memo about how the deans should advise students who stood accused of cheating. But most of those deans were not told that their accounts had been searched until the past few days, after The Boston Globe, which first reported the searches, began to inquire about them.
Rather than the searches being kept secret from the resident deans, “they should’ve been asked openly,” said Richard Thomas, a professor of classics. “This is not a good outcome.”
The article went on to state:
“This is, I think, one of the lowest points in Harvard’s recent history — maybe Harvard’s history, period,” Richard Bradley, a Harvard alumnus and author of the book “Harvard Rules,” a look at the tenure of a former university president, Lawrence H. Summers, wrote on his blog. “It’s an invasion of privacy, a betrayal of trust, and a violation of the academic values for which the university should be advocating.”
Last August, Harvard revealed that “nearly half” the students in a large class were suspected of having cheated on a final exam. The university would not name the class, but it was quickly identified by students as Government 1310, Introduction to Congress, which had 279 students last spring.
Days later, news organizations reported on an e-mail sent to resident deans. Among other things, the e-mail said they might suggest to students accused of cheating who were varsity athletes that they withdraw voluntarily, rather than face being forced out and losing a year of athletic eligibility. It was the leak of that e-mail that prompted the searches of the e-mail accounts.”
This does not portray one of our esteemed institutions of higher education in a very good light. Harvard we have a problem!