Harvard Dean Steps Down Following Secret Searches of E-Mail Accounts

May 28, 2013

Less than three months after Harvard University administrators admitted to signing off on secret searches in the e-mail accounts of more than a dozen resident deans as part of a cheating investigation, one leader implicated in those controversial searches is stepping down.

Evelynn M. Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, the university's main undergraduate division, will leave her post at beginning of July, the university announced on Tuesday.

Ms. Hammonds, who has led Harvard College for five years, found herself at the center of a scandal-within-a-scandal after trying to plug a leak in a university inquiry into a cheating debacle that prompted dozens of undergraduates to withdraw from the college.

Ms. Hammonds and Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, last fall authorized searches of the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans without informing them first.

The resident deans, faculty members who reside in undergraduate housing and oversee the students who also live there, sit on a committee charged with investigating the cheating scandal. Ms. Hammond and Mr. Smith suspected that one resident dean had leaked confidential information about the investigation to the news media, according to The Boston Globe.

Those suspicions turned out to be correct. But Ms. Hammonds and Mr. Smith failed to inform most of the deans—namely, the ones whom the searches had exonerated—that any search had occurred until much later. That delay was a violation of Harvard's e-mail policy, which requires that faculty members be informed immediately if their accounts have been searched.

Complicating matters, it came out later that Ms. Hammonds herself had authorized additional searches of e-mail accounts of the dean who had leaked the confidential information. That step escalated tensions with faculty members over privacy rights.

Ms. Hammonds said repeatedly that her only intention had been to protect the privacy of the students being investigated for cheating. She nonetheless apologized to the professors for overstepping their own privacy boundaries in the process.

Ms. Hammonds, who is a professor of the history of science and of African-American studies, will return to her faculty post following a sabbatical, Harvard officials said on Tuesday in a news release, which enumerated Ms. Hammonds's achievements as dean and made no mention of the e-mail scandal.

When she returns, officials said, Ms. Hammonds will head a new program at Harvard to study the intersection of race, science, and medicine.