Harvard Dean to Quit Following Outcry Over Secret Search of Faculty E-mails


Dr. Evelynn M. Hammonds, the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position of undergraduate dean at Harvard College, will resign from the post July 1, after serving for five years.

Hammonds' resignation comes after she was heavily criticized for her role in carrying out the secret searches of some junior faculty members' e-mail accounts.

 "I was never asked to step down," Dr. Hammonds said. "I have been in discussions to return to academia and my research for some time. Being dean of Harvard College has been an immensely rewarding experience for me, but I miss engaging deeply with my scholarship and teaching."

She will continue to remain a Harvard faculty member. Following a sabbatical, Hammonds is set to return to the university to lead a new program on race and gender in science and medicine at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.

"I'm grateful to her for all she has done to help our undergraduates thrive and we will be fortunate to continue benefiting from her talents and wisdom when she returns to the faculty after a well-deserved sabbatical," Harvard President Drew Faust, said.

Harvard University earlier this year  suspended 60 students and disciplined 60 others for being involved in cheating for a final exam of an undergraduate politics course - Government 1310: 'Introduction to Congress'.

This has created a huge academic scandal for the university. The issue came to light when a tutor in a spring semester noticed identical answers in an open book, take-home final exam of the course.

Two months ago, faculty members were annoyed to learn that the management had searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans in August, to find out who leaked information about the student cheating scandal to the news media.

Resident deans are junior faculty members who live in the student houses and play the role of student advisers.

Most of the resident deans were unaware of this internal search process until Hammonds and Dr. Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who had authorized the search, revealed that only the subject lines of the e-mail accounts were checked and not their contents.

Few weeks later, Hammonds confessed that she had authorised another search without the advisory of Smith of one resident dean's faculty email account who was believed to have allegedly leaked the confidential information.

This act caused an outcry among campus community members, who called for her resignation. Later, Hammonds sent her apologies to the faculty.

"The e-mail controversy was difficult, but it was not a motivating factor in my decision to step down as dean," Hammonds said.

The faculty policy states that the administration can search a Harvard faculty e-mail account as part of an internal investigation, but must notify them prior or immediately after the search. However, in this case, the notification was given after around six months.

"I think what the administration did was creepy," Mary C. Waters, a sociology professor, told New York Times. "This action violates the trust I once had that Harvard would never do such a thing."

Harry R. Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, said that the search carried out by the administration was 'dishonorable' and this would in turn prompt the resident deans to exchange communication through their private e-mail accounts rather than the Harvard e-mail account.

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