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Harvard is schooled in the need for clear records policies

Have you been following the goings on at Harvard as they relate to the school’s policies on email privacy for its resident deans? It’s a classic illustration of why organizations need to be clear about who’s covered and who isn’t, and why it’s critical to include representatives of all affected parties when those policies are developed.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Two days ago, the Boston Globe reported that “Harvard University central administrators secretly searched the email accounts of 16 resident deans last fall, looking for a leak to the media about the school’s sprawling cheating case …. They were not warned that administrators planned to access their accounts, and only one was told of the search shortly afterward.”

According to the paper, the privacy of faculty members’ electronic records is protected under a Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy, which permits administrators to access faculty emails and documents in “extraordinary circumstances” and requires them to notify the affected parties in writing, preferably in advance and at least “at the earliest possible opportunity.” Now, while resident deans do teach, they are not actually professors, and the issue is that it is unclear whether this means they are on the faculty – and thus covered by the FAS policy – or not.

The lesson here is that it is not enough merely to develop a policy, though that is a vital first step. No, it is equally critical that you also take care to define the scope and coverage of that policy so everyone knows who’s in, who’s out, and what the expectations are. Public accounts suggest that, in Harvard’s case, many of the resident deans believed they were “in” while Harvard thought they weren’t, and the result was a lot of ruffled feathers and the issuing of a partial apology and explanation by the school that likely satisfied no one.

1 thought on “Harvard is schooled in the need for clear records policies”

  1. Perhaps the “email” course can come right after their new “ethics” course that they must now teach over there in the Peoples Republic of Cambridge to inform their students and faculty that it is not OK to CHEAT . . . at school, and in life . . . especially as they go out into real-world careers. Remember when they just had to worry about “teaching” at Harvard. This is sad commentary on what was once a very proud school.

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