Further Undisclosed E-mail Investigations Revealed at Harvard
In a tense Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) meeting this afternoon, Michael D. Smith, the dean, revealed that additional “concerning actions”—further investigations of e-mail accounts—had been undertaken last fall during the Administrative Board (AB) review of student cheating on a final exam in the spring of 2012. He had previously commented on the discovery of a single instance of investigating resident deans’ e-mail accounts in a statement and briefing on March 11, following a March 10 Boston Globe report on the incident.
For a detailed accounting of these newly discovered investigations, Smith turned to dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds, who chairs the Ad Board—with whom Smith had issued his March 11 statement (read the full March 11 statement here). She revealed that she had authorized two additional investigations, with clearance from the Office of the General Counsel, but without notifying Smith that she done so. Her statement was accompanied by repeated apologies; she acknowledged “serious mistakes.”
Photograph by Jon Chase/Harvard News Office
Smith and Hammonds were preceded and followed by President Drew Faust, who said her inquiry into the investigations had revealed “highly inadequate” institutional policies and processes for treating electronic communications appropriately. She invoked the charged term “never again” in describing the situation that arose last fall, and then announced two actions she was undertaking immediately:
- An outside review of Harvard’s research into the e-mail investigations, by attorney Michael B. Keating, LL.B. ’65—partner and past chair of the litigation department at Foley Hoag, and a past trustee of Williams College, his undergraduate alma mater—to determine whether all the facts are known and the situation is completely understood. Keating will report to Faust.
- A University task force to establish policies and guidelines on e-mail privacy, led by Green professor of public law David Barron ’89, J.D. ’94—who served as acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of legal counsel from 2009 through 2010. The task force is to recommend actions for community discussion and Corporation action by the end of the fall term.
The texts of the remarks by Faust, Smith, and Hammonds appear below, at the end of this report.
The Faculty Meeting Presentations
President Faust. Although the FAS meeting had a full docket, on which the e-mail investigation was not listed, that subject was widely expected to come up; the meeting room was arranged to accommodate extra seating, and the event became a standing-room-only affair. After routine initial business, President Faust announced that she would begin discussion of “e-mail privacy” before the meeting turned to the printed agenda.
Faust told the faculty that when she first learned of the fall 2012 e-mail investigation early this March (she commented on March 11 that “I was obviously very interested in the Administrative Board case and was kept apprised of its progress throughout the fall. Back in September, I was made aware that there was concern about a potential breach in the confidentiality of the process, and was told it had been resolved, but I was not informed of specifics.”), she sought a fuller account of the facts, governing policies, processes, and past practices. She confirmed that faculty members’ e-mails were never monitored, and that such communications were accessed, rarely, in case of formal legal processes (investigations of academic misconduct, for instance)—and that faculty members were consistently informed that such actions were undertaken.
Less reassuring, she continued, were the “highly inadequate” institutional policies and practices governing electronic communications that she found. There are multiple policies across the University, she said, and some faculties in fact have none. FAS has two inconsistent policies, one in the Faculty Handbook and one on a relatively obscure website that is not referred to elsewhere. Recordkeeping on instances where actions have been taken to access e-mail accounts is also inadequate, she said. Overall, the lack of consistent, clear policy represents “a significant institutional failure” to provide guidance about and protection of electronic communications. She said Harvard needed “clear, visible, and well-articulated policies and processes” on such issues, based on discussion and debate about appropriate assumptions and community values. Both users of e-mail and other communications systems and administrators [who must conduct certain legally mandated investigations of such communications] need clarity and a shared understanding of policies and procedures. She said Harvard should “never again” face such a situation, and said she would describe subsequently initial steps she would undertake in response to it.
Dean Smith. The dean spoke next. He told the faculty that he recognized the intense concern about the search of resident deans’ administrative e-mail accounts disclosed in March, and had focused his professional and personal time since on trying to determine how often such searches had been conducted under the authority of the dean’s office—and community members’ right to be notified of such investigations.
His first query, he said, revealed that, as Faust had indicated, faculty members’ e-mails were not monitored, and that where e-mail accounts were investigated, faculty members were notified.
[The lack of such notification to the resident deans was a point of acute concern in the wake of the earlier disclosure, and pointed up the ambiguities in FAS policies governing faculty members and other staff; resident deans are listed in Harvard’s directory as members of the faculty, and many are lecturers, and they are entrusted with students’ well-being; they also play a key role in representing students in Administrative Board proceedings, and therefore shouldered much of the burden of the 100-plus cases under investigation beginning late last summer, an unprecedented academic-misconduct case load.]
In this specific instance, however, Smith said that he could not determine specifically what had happened in the initial investigation of resident deans’ e-mails. Memories differed, he said, and records were unclear (an indication of the kinds of inadequate documentation Faust mentioned). Nor, he said, were resident deans notified of the investigation, as they should have been. [For earlier discussions of this point, see the report on the March 11 statement by Smith and Hammonds here, and a follow-up report on March 13.] He said that he had met with the board, which includes the resident deans, and apologized in person for this failure; he extended that apology to the faculty as a whole in the FAS meeting.
Following the meeting with the board, Smith indicated that more questions were raised, and he asked Harvard University Information Technology and the general counsel’s office to provide a full reconstruction of the initial e-mail investigation. This effort reconfirmed the nature of the initial investigation. [It examined the subject lines of resident deans’ administrative accounts, and found a case in which an AB memorandum, marked confidential but not containing any information about a student, was forwarded improperly to two students, and ultimately found its way into The Harvard Crimson last September.]
But Smith said he also learned from that further review of events that the March 11 statement had not covered all the investigations undertaken in the name of preserving the confidentiality of the board’s work. For the account of those further actions, he turned the floor over to Dean Hammonds.
Dean Hammonds. Saying that she would comment on actions that occurred last fall, when the Administrative Board e-mail circulated publicly, Hammonds said she had “made serious mistakes,” including mistakes in communication, and regretted the anxiety and distress that had caused.
With the approval of the FAS dean, the general counsel’s office, and her support, she said, the initial review of the subject lines of resident deans’ administrative e-mails had been undertaken [a formulation that still leaves unclear where exactly the inquiry was initiated, and on what terms]. The goal, she said, had been to secure the “confidentiality and integrity” of the board’s processes, and to protect the identity of students whose conduct was under review by the board. She appealed emotionally to the faculty members present, asking them to imagine a circumstance in which their own children’s behavior was under review, when they would understandably want information held in strict confidence. Others, she acknowledged, might have decided to pursue a different course of action. She apologized to the resident deans for failing to notify them of the initial investigation, and recognized that it had eroded their trust—trust she hoped to rebuild in individual meetings now under way.
After she and Dean Smith met with the resident deans on March 12, and following reviews of her e-mail with the information-technology and general counsel personnel, and of her own notes and records, she recognized that she had, with the general counsel’s office, authorized two further investigations not reported in the March 11 statement.
One of these was a further search of the administrative account of the resident dean who had (apparently inadvertently) forwarded the AB e-mail to two students; having established in the initial review of e-mail subject lines that the resident dean had forwarded the message, this second search examined that account to determine whether the dean had had contact with two students who shared information with the Crimson.
The other investigation was of the resident dean’s regular Harvard (FAS) account; again, there was a subject-line search, and a search for the two students’ names.
In neither case, Hammonds said, were e-mails opened or read; no content was searched.
Hammonds said the actions, taken out of concern that private information before the Administrative Board be kept confidential, had not been the subject of consultation with Dean Smith—a mistake. Because she had not recalled either of these two subsequent investigations at the time, the statement she and Dean Smith released on March 11, concerning only the first of the three e-mail investigations, was inaccurate.
Had private information about a student been disclosed inappropriately, Hammonds said, she would be appearing before the faculty to explain how such a breach had happened—and perhaps why she had not taken appropriate action to prevent such a violation of confidentiality.
The incidents, she said, were grounds for reflection about how to conduct the board’s business confidentially while protecting and respecting the resident deans’ privacy. Better policies were clearly required. And, she emphasized again, it was vital to work with the resident deans to repair the relationship that had been damaged by the investigations and their disclosure in this fashion. Concluding on an emotional note, she referred to her 10-year-old son, whom she has tried to teach to “own up to your mistakes, to apologize, and to make amends”—behavior she hoped she was modeling in her presentation to the faculty.
President Faust then resumed her statement. She reminded the faculty of the extraordinary size and scope of the academic-misconduct proceedings before the Administrative Board last fall, and of the pressures placed on members. [Hammonds herself was forced to relinquish her fall-term teaching to devote time to the board’s work.] She also noted her thanks for the excellent work the resident deans did during the academic-misconduct inquiries, and the performance of the board when faced with so many complex cases at once. She said that in such circumstances, the tensions between the rules and policies governing the confidentiality of student information and the values and ideals of the academic community are sometimes reconciled imperfectly. “Different choices should have been made,” she said, and it was now pressing to sort out policies and practices governing privacy and openness for people in diverse roles.
She then reviewed the steps she had initiated: to have attorney Michael Keating review the University’s fact-finding about the three separate investigations of resident deans’ e-mails, to determine whether a full, accurate account of what happened now exists; and to have Professor Barron chair a Harvard committee to establish consistent, clear policy for the institution as a whole.
In a recent letter from House masters to resident deans, she said in closing, the masters had spoken of the importance of trust and of attributing good motives to others, even when people disagree on the decisions others had made. She hoped that today’s meeting would clear the air and create room for such a discussion–from which would emerge Harvard policies to prevent such mistakes in the future.
[The masters’ March 19 letter to resident deans, obtained separately from the faculty meeting, read in part as follows, beginning with reflection on a challenging past year:
It has been hard for all of us, but you have shouldered the lion's share of it as our Deans.
At the outset, we want to express our deepest appreciation for your incredible efforts in managing your wide-ranging responsibilities as Resident Deans. From the very beginning of the fall term, you have had an extraordinary workload, working with students, one by one, in a cheating case that went beyond anything you or your predecessors have experienced. We thank you for the integrity, the counseling, and the emotional and intellectual work that went into adjudicating each case. We also appreciate the fact that you conducted this work alongside your other responsibilities both as Deans in our Houses to support our students’ varying needs and as faculty teaching our students in the classroom. We know this required much fortitude and commitment from each of you, and we thank you.
We understand that while the cheating cases have come to a close, our discussion about what has transpired has not. There is still much to understand and learn following this incident. As you know, we hope to engage in deep dialogue with students in April about what factors might lead to dishonest behavior and bad judgment calls in an effort to understand root issues and thwart future missteps. We also believe that we can learn from our own internal administrative processes connected to these Ad Board cases. Our collective values of trust and openness have been questioned as a result of the inadvertently forwarded emails and the subsequent email search of your accounts and lack of notification, warranting further discussion and recognition of what led to these events.
We know that trust and respect among all of us, along with Deans Smith, Hammonds and Ellison, is essential particularly given that we must all work closely together to support our students in the Houses and through the Ad Board. We seek to actively engage in further substantive discussions to reach a better understanding of past events that have challenged our values and beliefs, as well as to develop a strong basis for current and future working relationships.]
In the ensuing discussion, various faculty speakers made these points:
Resident deans on “overdrive.” Diana L. Eck, Wertham professor of law and psychiatry in society—speaking as Master of Lowell House, with a close and involved perspective on students, resident deans, and their interaction—recalled how the resident deans had been “on overdrive” when the academic-misconduct investigation reached the board last fall—and that anxious students, parents, and the country at large were variously watching, searching for information, and generally creating conditions of heightened concern about keeping private information about students confidential. The resident deans had performed incredibly well during a sweeping cheating case, and deserved thanks and appreciation for their integrity and the emotional and intellectual work they carried out while each student’s circumstances were reviewed.
Establishing trust anew. Christie McDonald, Master of Mather House, recalled the unprecedented situation—with so many students’ conduct under investigation—and the simultaneous demands for privacy and transparency about the case as a whole. What should one do, she asked, when matters held private between students and faculty members spill out into the news media? Administrative Board proceedings, and indeed student relationships with adults in the community, depend on trust among students, faculty members, and administrators, and among those parties and Deans Smith and Hammonds. In the context of a difficult, complex situation, acknowledged mistakes, and apologies for those errors, she hoped that everyone would strive to reach a better place together, with a common commitment to repair relationships that had been damaged.
Building trust on truth. Richard Thomas, Lane professor of the classics and a member of FAS's Faculty Council, said that trust depended on establishing that discussions about what had taken place really were based on the truth. President Faust said in reply that she thought the statements she and Dean Hammonds had made provided extra information, and thus amplified a prior statement (on March 11), now known to be incomplete. The record had been muddy, she said, and hard to retrieve in its entirety. She believed the record was now as complete as possible, and the review of the record by Michael Keating would bring outside eyes to bear on just that point.
Facilitating better communication. Maya Jasanoff, profesor of history and a member of the Faculty Council, stressed the importance of communication in establishing an environment of trust, and noted that in a large, formal meeting like the current one, it was evident that many participants did not feel comfortable speaking their minds. How might Dean Smith encourage better communication? Smith responded that he had been thinking about that continuously, in Faculty Council meetings all year and earlier. Even with electronic channels, such communication was difficult to effect; he intended to rededicate himself to improving communication from himself and offices reporting to him to members of the faculty, and in the other direction. He expected to park himself around campus in unstructured settings to encourage informal conversations, as well.
Consulting the faculty and closing a gap with administrators. Professor of history Lisa McGirr said that while she welcomed the presentations from the president and deans, particularly about the comprehensive review of University policies, she felt that communications between the administration and the faculty had become almost a “spectator sport,” and that faculty members viewed the investigation of e-mail accounts as a symbol of the gap separating faculty members and administrators. The following two sentences edited and amplified April 3 at 11:10 a.m. She cited the decision to move the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to Allston—unveiled by Faust and University provost Alan Garber at the February faculty meeting—as an example of a decision made without consulting faculty. She pointed to a Council of Deans’ draft policy on professors' participation in online learning, recently circulated for discussion and docketed for the April 2 meeting, as an example of decisionsmaking proceeding while faculty members expressed concern about the level of consultation and the opportunity for meaningful input in shaping the policy that may ultimately be adopted. She framed this as a larger issue of faculty governance, and suggested the topic be docketed for consideration at the May faculty meeting, so the rest of the business on the day’s agenda could be addressed. (Dean Smith said he would be happy to do so, with the docket committee’s consent.)
Closing an “unhelpful distance.” Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Francke professor of German art and culture and a member of the Faculty Council, noted that there was more open, unprogrammed discussion in council meetings this year. The following sentences updated April 3 at 9:25 a.m. But he noted that the administrative ranks had expanded during the past decade or more, giving rise to a feeling not of “alienation” but more properly of “unhelpful distance” between faculty members and decision-making administrators—the unwelcome sensation of having to line up and run the ranks to secure an audience with Louis XIV at Versailles. (He has expressed concerns about faculty members' committee work not being incorporated into decisions, and decisions being made without consultation with those committees.) Citing a report of an e-mail investigation in another Harvard school, he asked, in regard to the "rare" University searches of e-mail accounts in accord with legal mandates, for some quantification of "rare." President Faust declined to put a number on such searches, but said they occured "very infrequently," and overwhelmingly in the context of investigations of academic misconduct. The University task force she is chartering will address the circumstances under which such investigations of e-mail are undertaken, the "gating mechanisms," and more—but such investigations are "extremely rare," she emphasized.
Student concerns. Benedict H. Gross, Leverett professor of mathematics and a former dean of Harvard College, worried that trust had been damaged in a separate, critical area: between students and the resident deans with whom they communicate by e-mail all the time about their problems and concerns. Would Dean Hammonds say that the University would not search resident deans’ e-mails, so students knew they could trust these important figures? Hammonds said she had no intention of searching resident deans’ e-mails and underscored the key relationship, based on trust, between students and resident deans. She would need to navigate more carefully than she had done, under unprecedented circumstances last fall, in balancing competing demands. The actions taken then, under those unprecedented circumstances, revealed the need for better policies and procedures. Dean Smith underscored that information students provided was kept confidential [and indeed it was, throughout the Administrative Board proceedings]. Trust had broken down, and the speakers had admitted that. The challenge now was to fix every stage of the process so students would trust it; he had reaffirmed that absolute goal to the board and the resident deans; and students cold have full trust in their resident deans, as the House masters’ letter had conveyed trust in them.
A resident dean’s perspective. Laura K. Johnson, resident dean of Currier House, expressed appreciation for the masters’ letter, given the close working relationship the masters and resident deans have. She said the resident deans were committed to the faculty, and recognized that they were entrusted to implement faculty legislation. The resident deans were proud of the work they had done during the academic-misconduct investigation, and despite the tremendous pressure applied by outsiders seeking information, no student data had been leaked. She said the resident deans prized the trust that the faculty and students placed in them.
AT THIS POINT, 50 minutes into the meeting, docketed business resumed (including a report on the work of the Committee on Academic Integrity. Dean of undergraduate education Jay M. Harris previewed its recommendations in February; visit harvardmagazine.com for a dispatch on the committee’s report and preliminary recommendations soon.)
These questions remain:
- When did Dean Smith and President Faust learn about the second and third e-mail account investigations, disclosed today?
- When did resident deans learn about the second and third e-mail investigations, newly disclosed today? One resident dean indicated that the group learned the news only during the formal presentations at the faculty meeting today. The resident dean who was found during the initial investigation (disclosed March 11) to have inadvertently forwarded the Administrative Board e-mail last summer, and who was the subject of the subsequent two investigations disclosed today, apparently was informed earlier today, before this afternoon’s faculty meeting.
- When did members of the Faculty Council (the elected group of professors who constitute a steering committee for FAS) learn about the newly disclosed investigations? One member indicated that they did not arise in meetings three weeks and one week ago, with Dean Smith and then President Faust attending, respectively (Faust traveled to Asia for alumni events and other meetings in Hong Kong and Seoul during the spring-break week—approximately March 15-24)—and said that information had not been distributed before this afternoon’s faculty meeting. At least some Faculty Council members may have been informed earlier today.
Updated April 3, 6:15 a.m. with the addition of these further unanswered questions:
- What substantive concerns prompted Dean Hammonds to initiate the second and third investigations into the resident dean's e-mail accounts?
- How could the further investigations be initiated without the explicit assent of the FAS dean (see the discussion of procedures for such investigations here)?
- What, if anything, was learned about the handling of Administrative Board materials in those investigations?
- What arose during the March 12 meeting with the board and its resident-dean members that prompted Smith to launch a wider review of the e-mail investigations through the information-technology staff and the office of the general counsel?
Text of President Drew Faust’s Opening Remarks
Before we turn to the scheduled and docketed business for this meeting, I, and then Dean Smith and then Dean Hammonds, would like to speak about the issues of email privacy that have so concerned our community over the last three weeks. When I first learned in early March about the email searches that had been undertaken last fall, I requested a fuller account of facts and circumstances, as well as information about existing university policies, processes and past practices in this realm. Let me first say, by way of reassurance, that the data compiled for me affirms that we have never monitored faculty email, and that only rarely does the university access faculty email. These very rare occasions have been either in conjunction with formal legal processes such as court orders, or legal investigations overwhelmingly related to academic misconduct proceedings. Faculty have consistently been informed when searches have taken place.
Less reassuring, however, is that I have also discovered that we have highly inadequate institutional policy and process around the rapidly and constantly evolving world of electronic communication. We have multiple policies across the university that vary across schools, with some faculties lacking any explicit policies at all. In the FAS, there are two statements of policy—and they are inconsistent. One can be found in the Faculty Handbook; another appears on a website where one might not immediately know to look for it, and it is not included with other privacy policies on the FAS home page. How these various policies emerged and were constructed, debated or communicated is unclear. We have also kept inadequate records of actions taken to access email in the past, and, in fact, the state of these records has made it a difficult and extended process to reconstruct past practices.
My reaction to the lack of university policies in this realm is that it constitutes a significant institutional failure to provide adequate guidance and direction in a digital environment that is a powerful and rapidly changing force in all of our lives. I believe we need clear, visible and well- articulated policies and processes. Perhaps even more important, we need the discussion and debate about our assumptions, values and imperatives in relation to digital privacy that can yield such policies. Clarity and shared understandings in this realm are important for all of us who use email—or other emerging communication platforms. Clarity and shared understandings are also important for administrators whose responsibilities may confront them with judgments in urgent and difficult circumstances. We must never again have a situation like the one that concerns us today.
In a few moments, I will have more to say about actions I intend to take to ensure that we do not.
For now, let me turn the floor over to Dean Smith and then Dean Hammonds for their observations. I will say a few more words after they speak and then I will open the floor for your comments and questions.
Text of Dean Michael D. Smith’s Remarks
Since intense concern about email searches and email monitoring arose several weeks ago, I have spent the majority of my professional and personal time reviewing past events and listening to our community. With the benefit of this consultation, I want to start by addressing two questions: (1) How often are emails searched under the authority of my office? And (2) do members of our community have a right to be notified of a decision to search their emails?
I have been asked how often emails are searched under the authority of my office. As the President said, this happens rarely. Very, very rarely. As for monitoring of email, I would never condone such a thing.
In those rare instances when an email search is authorized, I strongly agree with the community that we should always give notification. To my great dismay, I cannot stand before you and say definitively what happened in this current case. The records kept are incomplete. And from talking to individuals, I have learned that the memories of specific notifications are meaningfully different.
I am left with the undeniable conclusion that, in this case, notification was not done as it should have been. I met with the Administrative Board, whose membership includes all of the resident deans, and I apologized to them for this mistake. Since I am ultimately responsible for how our policies are applied to the members of our community, I make the same apology to the Faculty. Clear notification was not given to all resident deans and for that I am sincerely sorry.
This brings us to one last matter, and one I have learned about only after I walked out of my meeting with the Administrative Board. That conversation raised many new questions in my mind. I returned to my office and requested HUIT – Harvard University IT organization – and OGC – Office of the General Counsel – to produce for me as full a reconstruction of the events as could be created.
I learned two things from this review. First, OGC and HUIT reconfirmed the nature of the careful, limited search described in the statement from Dean Hammonds and me three weeks ago. I also learned a second thing, a thing that was previously unknown to me. I learned of additional actions – concerning actions – taken in this case. I’ve asked Dean Hammonds to describe the additional steps that were taken and set them in the context of the situation the College was confronting at that time.
Text of Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds’s Remarks
There has been a great deal of commentary on campus and off about the steps that were taken last fall to track the path of a confidential Administrative Board email that found its way to the press. I and others, entrusted with administering our university business, made serious mistakes and I stand here to apologize and join in the commitment to learn lessons for the future. These mistakes included missteps in communication.
I regret the distress and anxiety these events have caused our community, and I hope our discussion today will help us move forward in a constructive way.
First, let me reiterate that with the approval of the Dean of the Faculty and University Counsel and my support as Dean of the College, the decision was made for a search of the subject lines of the resident deans' emails to identify the disclosure of an Ad Board confidential memo to the resident deans. This decision was made to secure the confidentiality and integrity of the Ad Board's process and prevent disclosures of student identities and cases to the media. I might just say parenthetically: many of you are parents, and I ask you to imagine that it was your son or daughter who showed up on the front page of the newspaper. We needed to act in order to protect our students and the integrity of our Ad Board process. I appreciate that thoughtful individuals may have made different decisions.
Let me add my voice to Dean Smith's in apologizing to all the resident deans for not informing them that their emails had been accessed and the metadata reviewed. Dean Smith acknowledged that this action eroded trust in our relationships with the resident deans. Now I am currently meeting with them individually to begin the process of rebuilding that trust.
I also want to acknowledge that following the meeting Dean Smith and I had with the resident deans on March 12th, we went back and reviewed emails and notes with the Office of the General Counsel and HUIT from September. And I, along with the staff of the Administrative Board, reviewed our records.
This review revealed that two additional searches occurred that were not noted in the March 11th statement. Dean Smith and I think it is important for the community to know about this oversight.
After the initial limited access of email identified the resident dean who had forwarded the confidential Ad Board email, I, in consultation with an attorney of the Office of General Counsel, authorized two additional queries: the first was a search of the administrative account of the resident dean who forwarded the confidential information to determine whether that resident dean's administrative account indicated contact between the resident dean and two studentswho reported on the confidential Ad Board email in the Harvard Crimson; and second, a query of that resident dean's individual FAS account for both the subject line search and the two student names. I regret deeply the poor notification of these searches. Let me be clear, no emails were opened and no content was searched. This search was conducted because I was concerned that the deliberations of the Ad Board had been compromised and that this loss of confidentiality would result in reputational damage to students whose cases were under review, and undermine our process on ensuring that all students get a fair hearing. As the chair of the Administrative Board it is my job to insure that confidentiality of the process and of student information is preserved. No other emails were accessed.
Although I consulted with legal counsel, I did not inform Dean Smith about the two additional queries. This was a mistake. I also regret the inaccuracies in our March 11th communication resulting from my failure to recollect the additional searches at the time of that communication. For both these mistakes I apologize to the administration, the faculty, the resident deans and, most importantly, our students.
I want to remind all of you that this occurred when we were beginning to adjudicate the cases. Preserving confidentiality was paramount on my mind as the risk of exposure of student information once the cases were distributed was too high to take on. Indeed had we not sought to discover the source of the exposure and further information was released, I would now be standing here trying to explain why we did not take action. Indeed, we held back the confidential personal information where students bared their souls—from the board until we could identify the source.
Now, this whole experience has provided me with grounds for reflection as I know it has for other members of the Administrative Board team and the larger Harvard community. And I am committed to working with the resident deans to repair relationships. And I stand ready to work with them, the house masters, and any interested faculty in reflecting on how best to balance the needs for the confidentiality of student records and cases before the Administrative Board, the privacy of our resident deans and others in our community. We need clear policies to guide the handling of cases of this nature in the future in order to avoid the mistakes of the fall.
Again, I have the greatest respect for the resident deans and the difficult work they do. They have an essential role in our community. I have had the privilege of working closely with them weekly for almost five years as chair of the Administrative Board. I find them to be extraordinarily talented and dedicated to the work of the Board and to our students. And it is through their service on the Administrative Board that they must regularly grapple with complicated sets of facts and come to judgments that profoundly affect students' lives. They do this with thoughtfulness, dedication, grace, and good humor.
Lastly, I stand before you as parent of a 10 year old boy who I am raising to what I hope will be a good man. As I look out at all of you, I am seeing his eyes. I always tell our son how important it is to own up to your mistakes, to apologize and to make amends. I have to model that behavior for him. This is what I have tried to do today.
Text of President Drew Faust’s Closing Remarks
Let me return to the particular circumstances of last September that have so troubled us all these past few weeks. I do want to remind us, as Dean Hammonds has just done, about the extraordinary size and scope of what the Ad Board was facing, the nature of the pressures they confronted as they began to consider the academic integrity cases. As I noted at a faculty meeting earlier this semester, the Ad Board members, resident deans, house masters and others demonstrated remarkable effort and dedication over the difficult months that followed. They were driven by the desire to do right by the students, to protect the process and to protect the students’ confidentiality.
We—faculty, staff, administrators—who bear responsibility for this community have fundamental obligations to safeguard the well-being of the students entrusted to us. Protecting the privacy of their sensitive information is an essential part of that responsibility. We also have important obligations to one another, obligations that stem not only from rules and policies but from the values and ideals that define us as an academic community. Sometimes these commitments are in tension and sometimes these tensions may be reconciled in a highly imperfect manner. In this situation, as Dean Hammonds has noted, different choices should have been made. But we must work together—as individuals and as an institution—to find the ways we can best support and advance the critical values that have been at the heart of our current debates: respect, privacy, integrity, openness, accountability, trust.
I am taking two specific actions at this time. First: Dean Smith, Dean Hammonds and I want to be sure that we now have a full understanding of the searches that were undertaken. To that end, I am asking Michael Keating, a leading Boston lawyer from outside Harvard, to take the necessary steps to verify that the information we have discussed today is, as we believe, a full and accurate statement of the searches and to report to me. Mr. Keating is Chairman of Litigation at Foley Hoag and a former trustee of Williams College.
Second, I am forming a task force which I will ask to develop recommendations on a set of policies and guidelines about email privacy. Those recommendations will be submitted for community discussion and Corporation consideration by the end of the fall term. I am pleased to report that Professor David Barron, the S. William Green Professor of Public Law at Harvard Law School, has agreed to chair this task force. Professor Barron is a graduate of the College—a history concentrator—and of Harvard Law School. He worked as a journalist early in his career, served as a Supreme Court clerk, and recently completed two years of service heading the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in Washington. I am very grateful to him for agreeing to lead this process. The task force will draw members from across the university and will be broadly consultative in its work.
Last week, in a letter to the resident deans, the house masters spoke of the need for “trust and respect among all of us.” I want to reaffirm that. I think part of sustaining that trust is imputing to our colleagues the best motives, intentions and purposes, even when we may disagree with particular actions or decisions.It is my hope that [we can in] today’s meeting air and discuss the concerns that continue to trouble us and affirm a commitment to moving forward—to establishing policies that will ensure this never happens again and to mending fissures in the vital mutual trust that is so important to our work and our lives together.