In April, I asked Michael Keating of the law firm Foley Hoag to undertake an independent inquiry into the facts relating to the email searches conducted last September in connection with the proceedings of the Harvard College Administrative Board. I did so with two presumptions, which I noted in my remarks at the April FAS faculty meeting. The first was that whatever the conclusions each of us might draw about judgments made at the time, all actions related to the searches were undertaken in good faith, fueled first and foremost by a sense of responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of our students and the disciplinary process. The second was that our policies, procedures and protocols regarding the privacy of email communications were insufficient, poorly understood, and variably implemented. For better and for worse, Mr. Keating’s report confirms both those assumptions.
I am reassured by Mr. Keating’s conclusion that the individuals involved in the searches were acting in good faith, in a manner they believed to be consistent with applicable policy and with a guiding responsibility for safeguarding student confidentiality and the integrity of the Ad Board process.
Unfortunately, the detailed factual account in Mr. Keating’s report deepens my already substantial concerns about troubling failures of both policy and execution. The findings strengthen my view that we need much clearer, better, and more widely understood policies and protocols in place to honor the important privacy interests that we should exercise the utmost vigilance to uphold. A university must set a very high bar in its dedication to principles of privacy and of free speech; these are fundamental and defining values of our academic community. The searches carried out last fall fell short of these standards, and we must work to ensure that this never occurs again. I am grateful that Professor David Barron and the task force I have appointed on electronic communications policy will be creating recommendations for guidelines that will assist us in achieving that goal. Michael Keating’s insights and observations will make a critical contribution to that work. In the meantime, I will be announcing before the start of the fall semester interim protocols governing any searches of emails at the university.
We find ourselves in a time when technological change has raised significant questions about how values of privacy can be understood and maintained. The events Mr. Keating’s report describes must reinforce our determination to confront these issues squarely and to create here at Harvard the policies that affirm in new times the principles we believe to be both essential and enduring. I look forward to the report from the Barron task force at the end of the fall semester and to the important discussions in the coming months that will inform its deliberations.