Harvard University administrators secretly searched the emails of 16 deans last fall, looking for a leak to reporters about a case of cheating, two newspapers reported.
The email accounts belonged to deans on the Administrative Board, a committee addressing the cheating, The Boston Globe and The New York Times reported, citing school officials. The deans were not warned about the email access and only one was told of the search afterward.
Harvard will not comment on personnel matters or provide additional information about the board cases that were concluded during the fall term, Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in an email Sunday. If the committee's work were compromised, Harvard College would protect the process, he said.
"Generally speaking, however, if circumstances were to arise that gave reason to believe that the Administrative Board process might have been compromised, then Harvard College would take all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity of that process, which is designed to protect the rights of our students to privacy and due process," he said.
Smith's office and the Harvard general counsel's office authorized the search, the Globe reported.
Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal did not specifically address the allegations but denied any routine monitoring of emails.
"Any assertion that Harvard routinely monitors emails — for any reason — is patently false," he said in an email.
Sharon Howell, Harvard's senior resident dean, criticized Harvard administrators and said they owed the deans an apology for failing to notify the email accountholders until after gaining access to the emails.
"They don't seem to think they've done anything wrong," she told the Globe.
Harvard University said last month that it issued academic sanctions against about 60 students who were forced to withdraw from school for a period of time in a cheating scandal that involved the final exam in a class on Congress. The school implicated as many as 125 students in the scandal when officials first addressed the issue last year.
The inquiry started after a teaching assistant in a spring semester undergraduate-level government class detected problems in the take-home test, including that students may have shared answers.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.