Faculty at Harvard University expressed outrage following revelations that administrators had searched through private email accounts of over a dozen university deans.
The university conducted the searches in order to find out who leaked details of Harvard’s response to a cheating scandal to members of the press, according to The New York Times.
“This action violates the trust I once had that Harvard would never do such a thing,” said Mary Waters, a sociology professor.
Others were even less kind. Harry Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, wrote on his blog that the university “has taken a step toward becoming instead a bristling corporation, with adversaries within who must be spied upon using all available tools, or perhaps an authoritarian government.”
University officials said that administrative policies, which treat deans more like employees than faculty, gave them the leeway to conduct the searches. Only the subject lines of e-mails were read, they claimed.
Still, the searches will likely grow the perception that Harvard’s response to the scandal was inappropriate.
“This is disgraceful,” said Timothy McCarthy, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, in a statement. “Even more so than the original cheating scandal, because it involves adults who should know better — really smart, powerful adults, with complete job security.”
In August, Harvard officials disclosed that half the students in a 280-student lecture class were suspected of cheating on the finale exam. Some 60 students were eventually suspended from the university.
Soon after, the deans received an email from the administration asking them to advise student-athletes accused of cheating. If the students would voluntarily accept suspension, the e-mail suggested, they wouldn’t lose a year’s worth of athletic eligibility.
The email was immediately leaked to the press, provoking the searches of the deans’ accounts.
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