The Harvard email spying scandal got worse this week, with an admission that administrators had engaged in broader surveillance of faculty communications than had been previously disclosed.
The spying was prompted by public disclosure of an incident in which as many as half of the students in one Harvard class were accused of cheating on a take-home exam, and was intended to root out a faculty member believed to have leaked an internal memo to the press.
Harvard admitted in March that sixteen professors email headers’ had been surreptitiously snooped, but on Tuesday administrators told faculty that the spying had gone further. Specifically, they admitted that one professor’s faculty email account — not just his administrative account — was searched, in violation of college policy.
Harvard College dean Evelynn Hammonds, who authorized the searches, justified the snooping with an appeal to the assembled professors’ concern for their own children. “Many of you are parents,” she said, “and I ask you to imagine that it was your son or daughter who showed up on the front page of the newspaper.”
It was not until deep in the discussion period at the meeting that a faculty member raised a crucial privacy issue raised by the scandal — the fact that Harvard maintains lower privacy standards for the email accounts of “resident deans” (professors who work with students in resident hall settings) than it does for regular faculty accounts.
Benedict Gross, a math professor and former dean of Harvard College, asked the administration to promise that it would not search resident deans’ email correspondence with students, so as to preserve students’ trust in the confidentiality of such . But Hammond would say only (according to Harvard Magazine’s paraphrase) that she had “no intention” of conducting such searches.