Harvard admits to searching emails of resident deans

Posted: 03/10/13 at 9:45 pm EDT      Last Updated: 03/11/13 at 11:10 pm EDT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (WHDH) -- Harvard University administrators have issued an explanation as to why they secretly searched the emails of faculty members to find the source of a leak to the media about a cheating scandal.

Last month dozens of students were forced to leave the Ivy League university over allegations they cheated on an exam. And the university is defending those actions. Harvard administrators admit that they secretly searched the emails of 16 deans to find out who leaked the story of the cheating scandal to the media.

The public relations person for Harvard University’s president wrote in an e-mail to 7News that she is comfortable with what happened, but goes on to say that it is fair to ask why the deans were not told sooner, and a debate on the matter is healthy.

A statement released Monday read, "the secret email search was made because the leak raised concerns that private student information may be at risk."

So after speaking to attorneys, Harvard conducted what they're calling quote a very narrow, careful and precise subject-line search to find the source. The email content was not looked at.

Harvard students we spoke to see it both ways. Some see it as an invasion of privacy. Others say if it's work email, it's fair game.

"I think it's a breach of privacy. I think the deans told what they think is important and I think we just need to move on,” said a student, Allison Sinofsky.

"I think if the university searched through university email accounts to uncover information,it is perfectly within their rights to do so, perfectly reasonable,” said student, Jose Pellaz.

The college did not tell the deans they were searching their email.

The search found that an email from the disciplinary board had been forwarded from a resident dean to two students.

It was determined to be an unintentional breach, so nothing was done.

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