Harvard dean who okayed secret faculty email search steps down

Evelynn Hammonds admitted she authorized search, but said it was limited

Harvard College Dean Evelynn Hammonds, who last month acknowledged authorizing a secret search of email belonging to several residential deans at the university, will step down from her position July 1.

According to the Harvard Gazette, Hammonds will return to teaching and research at the departments of History of Science and African and African American Studies at the university's W.E.B Du Bois Institute. She will head a new program for the study of race and gender in science and medicine at the institute, the Gazette noted. She will also continue to serve on several advisory committees and boards at Harvard.

Hammonds was the first woman and first African American to be named dean of Harvard College when she was appointed in 2008.

Earlier this year, Hammonds became embroiled in a controversy following a Boston Globe report on how university administrators had secretly searched email accounts of 16 resident deans at Harvard. The university was looking for the source of a leak about a student cheating scandal.

Harvard acknowledged the search, but maintained it was done in a limited manner and only to identify an individual who shared a confidential email with an unauthorized person. The email, which contained advice on how to counsel students accused of cheating, was shared with the Harvard Crimson student newspaper and later picked up by the Globe. Harvard administrators said they conducted the search out of concerns for the privacy of students involved in the cheating scandal.

Hammonds and others acknowledged they erred by not informing the deans about the search, either before or after it occurred. But they maintained that IT administrators only conducted an automated subject-line search of each dean's administrative email accounts to see if they could identify the source of the leak. The university stressed that the search only involved administrative email accounts, not separate Harvard email accounts deans have for personal use.

In April, Hammonds acknowledged that the search was slightly broader than originally described. After the initial search had identified the dean responsible for forwarding the email, Hammond authorized another search to look specifically for correspondence between that person and two student reporters from the Crimson. Hammond said she also authorized a subject-line search of the personal email account of the implicated dean.

News of the email search evoked criticism from several Harvard faculty members. Harvard president Drew Faust described the entire episode as an "institutional failure" caused by a lack of adequate policies for protecting email privacy.

In April, Faust announced that Harvard would do a complete review of its email privacy policies and disclosures and develop new guidelines and policies.

This article, Harvard dean who okayed secret faculty email search steps down, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at  @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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