The original statement from Smith and Hammonds contained an apology “if any resident deans feel our communication at the conclusion of the investigation was insufficient.”
It was unclear how that apology was being received. Howell and others who had spoken with the resident deans said the group was feeling vulnerable and that the university’s house masters — professors who, like the resident deans, live with students — were angry on their behalf.
Meanwhile, the episode was provoking considerable debate, especially among faculty. Several professors said they thought the issue would be raised at an Administrative Board meeting on Tuesday and a Faculty Council meeting on Wednesday.
Harry Lewis — the former dean of the college, current computer science professor, and frequent thorn in the administration’s side — wrote on his blog that he would “probably, after four decades, respond by moving most of my personal and frivolous e-mail” to a Google mail account.
Lewis also raised a concern about the privacy of other Harvard e-mail account holders, including the thousands of graduates who maintain alumni addresses. “Given the university’s encompassing view of its rights to scan ‘employee’ e-mail, including faculty e-mail when the faculty have administrative responsibilities,” he wrote, “I would not assume that the university would feel constrained.”
On another blog, two other Harvard computer science professors — Michael Mitzenmacher and Greg Morrisett — wrote that they felt the episode had been “blown out of proportion.”
But both emphasized the need for faculty members and administrators to further hash out the issues involved.
Morrisett, who had initially expressed serious concern about the incident, elaborated in an e-mail to the Globe. “For the most part, I think that [Smith] and the rest of the administration actually did the right things,” he wrote. “The one failing is that they didn’t inform the other resident deans that they were doing the search, and there’s enough of a ‘mea culpa’ in his statement to mollify me regarding this particular incident.”
However, Morrisett said, he would like administrators to clarify whose e-mail privacy was protected under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy and to “affirm the policy and promise to abide by it in the future.”
He suggested that the dean consult “a small, select group of faculty when he is going to do such a search . . . to create more trust about the situation.”
Sandra Korn, a junior who participates in many activist groups, said the episode had reminded her of a worry she had heard in years past but dismissed as unrealistic.
While organizing the 2011 Occupy Harvard protest, she said, she had been told by graduate students not to write about the group’s plans on her Harvard e-mail account. “I think the undergraduates were skeptical that the administration would be poking through our e-mails,” she said. “I still doubt that anyone was doing that. But I guess it was good we were cautious.”
Another student, who was implicated and later exonerated in the cheating case, said he felt that in gaining access to the resident deans’ accounts, administrators might have compromised the student privacy they were seeking to protect, because students use those accounts to communicate confidentially with their resident deans about disciplinary issues.
As for the cheating scandal as a whole, he added, with an air of exasperation, “I didn’t think it could get any more ridiculous.”