The Boston Globe reported over this weekend about a possible breach of privacy when Harvard University searched 16 resident deans’ emails without their knowledge, hoping to find information about leaked sources regarding the university’s cheating scandal last fall. Over 70 students withdrew from the school after a scandal erupted over a government class take-home exam.
The Boston Globe first reported this story and their investigation was the reason why the majority of the faculty found out about the search at all. In the Globe’s article, “Harvard secretly searched deans’ e-mail,” the Globe tackles the idea of privacy and how much resident deans should expect to be protected. Resident deans live and work with students, but are not professors; however many are lecturers nonetheless. How much privacy should they expect?
The former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences argues that if the search really was OK, why didn’t they ask first for someone to come forward and then warn of an e-mail search? The secrecy reveals the truth of the issue. Michael Smith, the current Dean, released a statement that all decisions taken by the Harvard Administration were to protect the students’ privacy in the cheating case and taken to keep integrity in the disciplinary process.
So the students are able to have protection of privacy, but not faculty?
The New York Times’ article, “Harvard Search of E-Mail Stuns Its Faculty Members,” takes a more personalized approach, focusing on the relations between faculty and administration over this issue. Many faculty admitted to be “bewildered” and thought the act was “creepy” and “dishonorable.” Evidently this news is the main topic of conversation amongst faculty and even on blogs and other forums online.
By stipulation, professors have more privacy protection than staff members and the fact that resident deans are somewhere in between is a point of contention between faculty and administration. The NYT also focused on the ambivalence of the current e-mail policy and how faculty themselves are even unsure if their e-mails are indeed private or are accessible to the university on a regular basis. One professor said he will start using private e-mail to conduct business, rather than the one provided by the university.
In this case, the scandal has been turned from the students to the administration. This is one case that surely will be referred to in the future regarding e-mail and breaches of privacy – as policies are forced to become more clear and the issue of privacy becomes even more questionable.