Harvard Caught Snooping Through Employee Emails

Following a cheating scandal, administrators broke into deans' email accounts.

Photo Credit: Flikr / Harvard

Harvard University is embroiled in another scandal following revelations of a student cheating ring that made national headlines last August. But this time around, it’s Harvard administrators taking heat for searching the university email accounts of 16 resident deans without permission last fall, according to a report from the Boston Globe.

Anonymous officials told theGlobethat administrators looked through deans’ emails six months ago to find a media leak of confidential messages related to last year’s cheating scandal. They succeeded, and the dean in question reportedly did not face punishment.

The scandal raises questions about whether resident deans, who are not professors, but teach nonetheless, should be afforded the same privacy protections offered to Harvard faculty. Even though they weren’t the victims of spying, Harvard professors still expressed feelings of betrayal, disgust and a new distrust of university administrators.

“This is disgraceful,” wrote history lecturer Timothy McCarthy in a Facebook post, “Even more so than the original cheating scandal, because it involves adults who should know better — really smart, powerful adults, with complete job security.”

Harvard Computer Science professor and former Harvard College dean Harry Lewis questioned the logic of not simply asking resident deans before snooping through their email accounts, asking in a blog post, ““Why not tell people you are reading their email? Would it not be the honorable thing to do? What is to be gained by not doing that?” Dr. Lewis continued, saying he will refrain from using his university email for personal purposes, in light of the spying scandal:

“I used to favor Harvard email over gmail because I thought it protected me better. I figured, if someone issues a subpoena for my email, I would rather have Harvard's lawyers think about whether to comply than to know for certain that Google would comply. My assumption about the relative risks has now flipped.”

Former Harvard teaching fellow Richard Bradley, who has written extensively about Harvard affairs, says administrators blatantly violated university policy and that someone, specifically naming Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith, should get the boot.

“This is, I think, one of the lowest points in Harvard’s recent history—maybe Harvard’s history, period,” wrote Bradley, “It’s an invasion of privacy, a betrayal of trust, and a violation of the academic values for which the university should be advocating.”

h/t The Harvard Crimson

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.