Monday, March 11, 2013

At Least I Get That Part Now

In the blog post below, I wondered parenthetically,
(Don't ask me why the fact that you have no email privacy as a Harvard employee is kept secure behind a login wall.)
I got an email from someone I don't know, offering an explanation, and here quote it with permission:
While I am not an attorney, I believe the reason the University policy is only accessible through logon is that this provides the administration with a record of folks who have accessed the policy, thereby potentially limiting the ability of people to claim they were not aware of the policy.
That is to say, they want to make sure you can't privately access the information that your email is not private, because they want to be able to prove later on that you knew it wasn't private.

I don't know that that is accurate, of course; just a conjecture. But it sounds right. If it is true, I wonder if they do page-level tracking (the employee email policy is part of the employment handbook, which has a table of contents breaking it down into about a dozen web pages).

Thanks very much to the gentleman who gave me this suggestion. And welcome to the corporate university.

Added 10pm 3/11: I have now heard from two very experienced lawyers who giggled at this theory but don't believe a word of it. Any competent lawyer, one of them said, would advise that the policy needs to be as visible as possible to reduce the risk that someone will claim not to have known it. So thanks to my informant, but the theory is too cute by half.


  1. I believe that in large part, the frustration of the faculty comes from a breach of the expected school/faculty relationship. Yes, the email server is employer-run; yes, Harvard (the corporation) likely has every right to "dig through it."

    But the general understanding in academia (and perhaps more pressingly, codified in the official FAS policy on faculty email) is that university employers grant their faculty great professional autonomy along with academic freedom -- the entire concept of tenure is intended to foster richer academic discourse by shielding faculty from the demands of administrators. I'm not convinced that this case is really any different.

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