Faculty members at Harvard criticized the university on Sunday 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.
Last August, Harvard revealed that “nearly half” the students in a large class were suspected of having cheated on a final exam. The students in a single course apparently copied each other or collaborated on a take-home exam last spring.
Days later, news organizations reported on an e-mail sent to resident deans asking them to get the students accused of cheating to withdraw voluntarily. It was the leak of that e-mail that made its way to the Harvard Crimson and the Globe and fueled the campus controversy over the cheating scandal. Hence, prompted the searches of the e-mail accounts.
The resident deans were not warned that administrators planned to access their accounts, and only one was told of the search shortly afterward.
The rest found out only when the fact became widespread.
Sharon Howell, Harvard’s senior resident dean, said she was dismayed to learn that the email accounts had been accessed. “They don’t seem to think they’ve done anything wrong,” she said. “[I told them], if you want to repair this with the resident deans, it would make sense to talk about why you thought this was the right thing at the time, and apologize for not notifying us after the fact.”
Some Harvard policies do allow administrators to freely access email accounts and other electronic records without notifying the holders or owners.
Timothy McCarthy, a lecturer and program director at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, posted about the e-mail search on Facebook. “This is disgraceful,” he said, “even more so than the original cheating scandal, because it involves adults who should know better — really smart, powerful adults, with complete job security.”
Cheating is not new at Harvard. Ted Kennedy was famously kicked out for a year for getting someone else to take his Spanish test. This, however, is the biggest cheating scandal in memory.
And now it has this revelation added to it!