Harvard apologizes for secretly searching employees’ emails. Is it ever OK?

In the wake of a cheating scandal, Harvard College administrators searched the email of 16 deans without permission. The college apologized, but faculty and staff remain uneasy.

In their attempt to seek out answers in the wake of an embarrassing cheating scandal, Harvard College administrators may have dug an even bigger hole for themselves by searching the emails of 16 resident deans without asking.

The dean’s office offered some explanation and an apology Tuesday. A statement said there was not “any clear precedent” in the case and the investigation “protected the privacy of the resident dean” who had inadvertently forwarded a confidential email.

“We apologize if any resident deans feel our communication at the conclusion of the investigation was insufficient,” the statement read.

Even so, faculty members remain dismayed over the searches. Former Dean of the College Harry Lewis wrote on his blog that the inadvertent forwarding was “not a firing offense nor an offense worth combing through email boxes.”

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