Monday, April 29, 2013

Moral Courage in Academia

Yesterday's New York Times has an excellent piece by Salman Rushdie, Whither Moral Courage? The political class is notably lacking in courage, Rushdie says, but even artists and writers get no respect for taking tough stands.

[W]e have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma. It was not always so. The writers and intellectuals who opposed Communism, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the rest, were widely esteemed for their stand. … This new idea — that writers, scholars and artists who stand against orthodoxy or bigotry are to blame for upsetting people — is spreading fast, even to countries like India that once prided themselves on their freedoms.
Rushdie mentions the Pussy Riot group in Russia, which mocked the ties between Putin and the Church and whose members were punished severely for doing so. Public sentiment in Russia seems to be much more focused on the group's desecration of church property than on the power abuses that were the point of the protest.

One of the reasons that moral courage is lacking in the US is that it is lacking in universities. As institutions, they now operate much more like ordinary corporations, fearful of bad publicity, eager to stay on good terms with the government, and focused on their bottom lines, than as boiling cauldrons of unconventional ideas sorted out through a process of disputation, debate, and occasional dramatic gestures. Where the Yale of 1964 gave an honorary degree to Martin Luther King, Jr., who had to be bailed out of jail to receive it and was widely considered a common criminal, the Harvard of 2013 will honor … Oprah Winfrey. Where Erik Erikson resigned from the University of California in 1950 rather than sign a government-mandated loyalty oath, the Harvard of 2011 asked all its incoming students to sign a pledge to be kind. There are, on the other hand, ample instances of moral cowardice in universities -- two local examples being Harvard's unwillingness to acknowledge the malfeasance in Russia of economics star Andrei Shleifer and the affront to democratic principles by Harvard professors whom Muammar Gadaffi paid to promote his regime as a democracy.

Rushdie closes,
It’s a vexing time for those of us who believe in the right of artists, intellectuals and ordinary, affronted citizens to push boundaries and take risks and so, at times, to change the way we see the world. There’s nothing to be done but to go on restating the importance of this kind of courage, and to try to make sure that these oppressed individuals — Ai Weiwei, the members of Pussy Riot, Hamza Kashgari — are seen for what they are: men and women standing on the front line of liberty. How to do this? Sign the petitions against their treatment, join the protests. Speak up. Every little bit counts.
But of course people in universities can do a lot more. Especially those of us with tenure can speak up about hypocrisies and moral compromises. If we don't, we will have only ourselves to blame when those we are teaching grow up to favor self-interest over the public interest, and aid the existing power structure by stifling dissent.

For years I have been haunted by a matched pair of comments in the Crimson about the Shleifer affair at the time Shleifer resumed his teaching career.
“We think about him not as the guy who was involved in the AID lawsuit­—we think about him as the exciting, intellectually active colleague that we’ve always known,” [said another Harvard economics professor.] 
[An] economics concentrator who had Shleifer as a thesis adviser … rejected the relevance of Shleifer’s legal troubles to his standing as a Faculty member. 

“He is an excellent professor and does remarkable research and those to me are the two main criteria that you should be using in deciding whether or not he’s going to be a valued professor,” [the student] said. “The other stuff, that is for other people to worry about.” 
If the teachers don't teach, the students won't learn. If the tenured faculty in American universities don't worry about "the other stuff," who will?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Email Privacy Update

Harvard Magazine has an excellent summary of where things stand. Among the unanswered questions the Magazine mentions are these:
What was the impetus for the second and third e-mail investigations? How were they initiated without the FAS dean’s assent? What was learned about the handling of Ad Board materials from those further queries? What transpired in the March 12 meeting that prompted Smith to pursue further queries? When did he and Faust learn about the additional investigations?
There is also an oddity that the Crimson noted:
In her [April 2] remarks, Hammonds also said she had authorized that second search with the approval of the Office of the General Counsel. [Harvard spokesman Jeff] Neal declined to comment Monday night why the General Counsel did not correct the original statement. 
The same Crimson story details some disputed points, for example whether the resident dean who forwarded the email had actually made a mistake by doing so, and whether that dean had in fact not been sanctioned as stated in the March 11 Faculty meeting.

As the Magazine quotes several professors as suggesting, the mistrust emanating from this affair is infecting the way faculty think about other matters where the administration may be withholding information from the faculty. (Cf. also my earlier post, We Operate on Trust.)

So it is good news that the outside counsel's report on the email searches will, apparently, be made public. According to the Crimson, Harvard Fellow William Lee stated,
At the request of a Corporation committee, Mr. Keating’s review is focusing on the facts bearing on any searches of email or email metadata done in connection with the Administrative Board proceedings relating to a take-home exam in a spring 2012 undergraduate course.
 I expect the report to be definitive, truthful, and extremely narrow. I expect it to leave unanswered most of the important outstanding questions. It may, in fact, be very brief: "Yes, the searches described on March 11 and April 2 are the only ones that occurred in connection with this particular incident." In addition to the questions mentioned above, there would then remain the core questions: Were these searches really undertaken out of fear that student records might be leaked to the Crimson, or was the fear, as the Globe editorial board speculated, simply that Harvard's reputation-shaping and control bulwark was being breached, however harmlessly? And how often, and for what kinds of reasons, have searches like this taken place in the past?

A separate story in the same issue of the Crimson reports that the Undergraduate Council has asked for clarification and strengthening of Harvard's policies with respect to searching student email. Here are the relevant paragraphs of the Handbook for Students:

Privacy of Information

Information stored on a computer system or sent electronically over a network is the property of the individual who created it. Examination, collection, or dissemination of that information without authorization from the owner is a violation of the owner’s rights to control his or her own property. Systems administrators, however, may gain access to users’ data or programs when it is necessary to maintain or prevent damage to systems or to ensure compliance with other University rules.
Computer systems and networks provide mechanisms for the protection of private information from examination. These mechanisms are necessarily imperfect and any attempt to circumvent them or to gain unauthorized access to private information (including both stored computer files and messages transmitted over a network) will be treated as a violation of privacy and will be cause for disciplinary action.
In general, information that the owner would reasonably regard as private must be treated as private by other users. Examples include the contents of electronic mail boxes, the private file storage areas of individual users, and information stored in other areas that are not public. That measures have not been taken to protect such information does not make it permissible for others to inspect it.
On shared and networked computer systems certain information about users and their activities is visible to others. Users are cautioned that certain accounting and directory information (for example, user names and electronic mail addresses), certain records of file names and executed commands, and information stored in public areas, are not private. Nonetheless, such unsecured information about other users must not be manipulated in ways that they might reasonably find intrusive; for example, eavesdropping by computer and systematic monitoring of the behavior of others are likely to be considered invasions of privacy that would be cause for disciplinary action. The compilation or redistribution of information from University directories (printed or electronic) is forbidden.
When I saw the last sentence of the first paragraph quoted in the Crimson, I could not help smiling. I wrote that language, just as I had written the FAS policy about which there was so much consternation when the Resident Deans' email was searched. These paragraphs carry fingerprints of the history of computing at Harvard; some provisions are a bit anachronistic, though in general they have held up pretty well.

I would have to go back to Archives to look at old student handbooks to retrace the development of this section. I am pretty sure that a later provision, "Computer programs written as part of one’s academic work should be regarded as literary creations and subject to the same standards of misrepresentation as copied work," dates to the 1980s and maybe to the 1970s, as a Gen Ed course in computer programming had been taught since the early 1970s. I remember being drafted to help the Ad Board with software plagiarism early on, probably because I was sending cases to the Ad Board out of Nat Sci 110, which I taught 1975-77.

I think probably the privacy provisions quoted above were drafted later, sometime in the early 1990s as students began using email. They were meant to cover a variety of stupid but "cute" things students used to do on timeshared computer systems, which students accessed via terminals located in the Science Center. For example, it was not hard to capture students' login credentials by dummying up something that looked like a login screen but was actually some miscreant's data capture program, left running as an active job. With some cleverness the student whose credentials had been captured might not realize what had happened. It was not obvious, in those days when email was new to the non-tech world, that stuff like this was in fact not cute at all.

My email files go back only to 1995, but my records from that year include some editing and drafting of thee privacy provisions, in collaboration with some faculty heavyweights, including philosophy professor Tim Scanlon and CS professor Margo Seltzer. Some corner cases I worried about were reading email that was sent to a student in error (that used to happen a lot, as naive users used to assume that <lastname>@… was a suitable email address for any individual), and that using the Unix "finger" command could not be considered an invasion of privacy even if it revealed more about the movements of an individual than the individual might realize.

The relevant question for the UC memo is, what is meant by ensuring "compliance with University rules"? And more generally, how often does the university read student email? I really don't have good answers to these questions (even though I wrote the language!). I don't think anyone would find it unreasonable to check a student's email box if the student had gone missing for several days and had not been in touch with family or friends. If a student is alleged to have sent a death threat and denies it, it's probably reasonable to check the student's sent-mail to be sure the alleged sender is not being framed. Any imaginative person can probably come up with other "obviously OK" cases, though the question of notice, which is built into the FAS faculty policy, had not occurred to anyone when the student policy was drafted.

During the eight years I was dean of the College, I don't remember the College ever reading a student's email, but that is not to say it never happened --- nothing in the rules says the dean has to approve or be notified. In the case of a missing student it might well have been done by a request of the police to some part of the university administration. I don't know why else a search might have been done and it may be that it never happened.

And in fact, though this clause has been on the books for at least 18 years and probably longer, I don't remember any student ever asking exactly what it meant. The question has arisen only because of suspicion and mistrust raised by recent events. There is a worry that authority the administration quite reasonably needs for extraordinary circumstances has been used for reasons that the community would regard as not particularly exceptional. Once that happens, trust breaks down, more questions get asked, and doubts are raised about the wisdom of unconstrained powers. And that is exactly why the faculty is asking for greater transparency on email searching. I have no idea how the student policy could be rewritten to provide stronger guarantees against abuse and still allow rapid response to emergencies.

There is nothing in the president's stated charge to the committee on email privacy to suggest that student email privacy will not also be on its agenda. That is, it seems to me, a good thing, as the old language, which worked fine as long as the community was confident that its intent was being honored, no longer seems suitable as it stands.

Friday, April 19, 2013

An Unreal Day

The convergence of Patriot's day and my birthday, along with the marathon of course, always made this a special day for me. (I think the marathon used to be on April 19 and the holiday was moved to Monday only a few decades ago.) It is unreal to sit at home as instructed by the police, miles from the center of the action, watching TV like everyone else in the country is probably doing. The news, just announced, that the suspect seems not to be in the house that law enforcement had surrounded, is deflating. Harvard is closed, as is every other university in greater Boston and some that are further out. The schools are closed. Best announcement that came into my inbox, if I may be allowed a bit of birthday humor, came from the Mahindra Humanities Center an hour or so ago.

Harvard University is closed due to the ongoing public safety situation in the area.  This afternoon's first session of the "Confronting Evil" conference is postponed until tomorrow morning, starting at 9:00 am, in Emerson Hall 210. We hope that you will be join us then.
Sounds like a plan. Stay safe, everyone!

Monday, April 15, 2013

We Operate on Trust

A university operates on trust.

Universities regularly complain about the regulations under which they operate. We attribute the growth of the nonacademic bureaucracy to the cost of compliance with government regulations, and explain our rising costs by saying that we have to pass those costs along to the consumer. For example, in the American Council on Education report "Putting College Costs in Context, the section "Burdensome and costly federal regulations drive college prices higher":
  • Given the range of their activities, colleges and universities are among the most heavily regulated entities in America. With the exception of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, all federal agencies are involved in regulating some aspect of higher education.
  • In recent years, the burden imposed on colleges and universities by federal regulation has become increasingly complex, onerous, and costly. In 1998, the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education highlighted government regulation as one of five major cost-drivers in higher education.
  • Regulations impose a heavy toll on colleges and universities in the form of additional staff, increased staff development and training, additional paperwork, creation of computer systems and software to support record-keeping requirements, and higher legal fees. These regulations, in turn, increase operating costs. For instance, there are more than 7,000 regulations associated with Title IV student aid programs alone. 
This is all true where dollars change hands and in certain other business processes. And yet our core work with students and faculty is little affected by any regulation. When a college professor teaches, no one is watching and there is no audit or quality assessment of the teaching. (Don't even think of suggesting that student evaluations such as Harvard's Q play that role.) When we grade papers, nobody checks that we are doing it fairly, or in fact that we are reading the papers at all. When we assign the grading work to teaching fellows, we do little if any followup to check on them. Even modest measures to improve grading equity (such as the practice, common in Computer Science courses, of having the same grader grade an entire problem rather than a particular set of students) are seen as extraordinarily inventive.

At Harvard, professors are allowed to spend something like a day a week, or 20% of our total effort, on outside activities (typically, remunerative consulting activities). We do a certain amount of self-reporting, but nobody is really watching.

Because we operate on trust, there is little checking on any of these activities. We generally try, in the hiring process, to employ trustworthy people, and then leave them alone. We expect they will ask their peers and seniors if they don't know what to do in an unexpected situation, or can't handle the workload. Academics don't expect to be treated like bank tellers, who expect to have cameras on them all the time and to have their work audited daily. They also like to think that the university administration is trustworthy and will not act in the mistrustful way the managers of bank must necessarily act.

This system has its problems. A student who has been cheated in grading has essentially no recourse. At Harvard, the FAS faculty handbook states,
Both undergraduate and graduate students may request that an instructor review a grade that has been received and may also ask to consult with the Chair of the department or committee offering the course. However, final authority for the assignment of grades rests with the course head.
So a student dissatisfied with a grade cannot even hope that a department chair will overrule the professor. The buck stops with the professor, period. Similarly with decisions of Harvard's Administrative Board. There is a way to request reconsideration by the Board itself, but the appeal process asks an outside body only to review the fidelity to procedure, not the considered judgment of the Board.

The immunity of many of our academic processes to outside review and reversal places a moral burden on members of the academy very different from the work conditions of, say, workers in the financial industries. It is why I tend to react so strongly to abuses of professorial autonomy, especially when they are costly to the undergraduates, who are at the bottom of the power structure. It is why the reports of professional malfeasance in Gov 1310 are so stinging---without any institutional response, the public has the right to assume that this is the way all Harvard professors abuse their autonomy and the trust that has been placed in them. That was the thesis of my first comment on the so-called cheating scandal, Harvard, Know Thyself. It is why I am not convinced that the proposed "cultural interventions" on cheating should start with the students, or that the right structural interventions are to rip academic honesty cases out of the Ad Board and put them in the hands of a student-faculty judiciary.

Trust has to exist between the faculty and the administration. If a department recommends a junior faculty member for promotion and the president turns it down, there is no way to be sure whether that happened because of considered academic judgment or some political animus. If departments A and B both ask for a hiring slot for next year and only the search in department B is authorized, there is no way to be sure whether that was because of greater needs in B or an unspoken agenda to let department A wither and die along with the field of learning it represents. The university, with its elaborate protocols of consultation and consensus-building, simply cannot function in an atmosphere where the faculty fear they are being lied to.

Today's Crimson has two piece that touch on this question of trust. One article reports that the Docket Committee of the Faculty Council has written directly to the president asking for transparency on the findings of the outside lawyer she has hired to report to a committee of the Corporation on the conduct of the recent email searches. That is a lot of inside baseball procedurally, but basically it is asking that the investigation be handled the way a set of academic colleagues would expect, not the way the board of directors of an ordinary corporation would behave.

Professors want reassurance that it can trust the administration to trust them. The faculty voices quoted in the story are using words like "deflated" and "haven't gotten to the bottom." If such feelings are widespread---and some of the names mentioned in the story are not people with any political history at Harvard---it will be hard to conduct some of the daily business of the institution. Academics won't put much effort into projects when they do not trust that their efforts will be reciprocated in good faith.

So I am glad that the Docket Committee is asking for more information. Were I a betting man, I would bet they won't get it, because we are at one of those uneasy junctures where the corporate culture of Harvard's governing board clashes with academic conventions. I hope I would lose that bet. I hope that the academics on the Corporation can speak to the importance of trust in our core activities, and pull the institution back from the adversarial trajectory on which it has launched itself.

Student writer Tessa Wiegand gets it better than most. Her piece is entitled "In Veritas We Trust?" She traces the problems back to their root, and I will give her the last word.
There is no doubt that the magnitude of cheating in Gov 1310 posed a significant challenge to the system, which made it all the more important that the Ad Board and administrators acted in an efficient, truthful, and fair manner. Instead, the opposite occurred. The Ad Board process for students involved in the scandal was lengthy, obscure and unduly stressful. Even after the Ad Board's hearings came to a messy conclusion, the administration's lack of respect for the truth grew clear .…
Last year, had I received an email saying that Harvard may have searched emails to find out about river run activities, I would laughed and shaken my head at the conspiracy theories of my fellow students. This year, I wondered seriously if that rumor—thoroughly denied by the administration—could be true. I, a fairly average student by my own evaluation, seriously questioned whether the administration was checking my emails to find out about illegal parties. Where does this end? The events of the last year have proceeded to shatter the trust, which was once shared by the students, faculty, and administrators that make up the Harvard community, and it needs to stop.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Great Day for the Ivy League

Given the snarkiness over Harvard winning a single game in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, it will probably not take long for critics to go after Yale for being successful in ice hockey. Yale's victory yesterday -- winning the NCAA tournament 4-0 over Quinnipiac, a team that plays about 10 miles away from Yale and had beaten Yale three times this year -- is stunning. That's a #15 seed beating the #1 seed, having beat the #2 and #3 seeds along the way. That's a team with 12 losses and 3 ties winning it all. A Cinderella story. Not to mention all the standard Ivy League competitive disadvantages -- no athletic scholarships, actual homework due on Monday, admissions standards subject to league-wide regulations. (The Ivies play within the ECAC in ice hockey, but are still subject to Ivy League admissions rules. See this piece by Will Leitch in New York Magazine for a putting-to-bed of the old Pete Thamel story that started the diffidence about the Harvard basketball program.)

College sports are severely challenged. It is so hard to hold onto any idealism that places like Harvard and Yale sometimes are embarrassed by successes. The old notion that amateurism creates a level playing field is almost ridiculously false; most members of the Yale squad played in some junior league. They are not just bigger but older than their fellow students; one star celebrated his 24th birthday on the day of the great victory. In basketball, the rewards to the coaches for success are so lavish that they have overwhelming incentives to cut corners and stretch the rules to win. The coach of the team that beat Harvard in the NCAA tournament had a compensation schedule that earned him exponentially increasing amounts as he progressed through the tournament: from $25,000 to $75,000 for reaching the Sweet Sixteen, and had he gone further, $125,000 for reaching the Elite Eight, $300,000 for reaching the Final Four, and $675,000 for winning the national championship. (One of the few correct uses of the term "exponentially increasing" in ordinary prose.) All that on top of a $900,000 base salary. No wonder he was willing to take on a star player who had already graduated from another university but still had a year of eligibility left, when that school concluded that the player was more trouble than he was worth.

(I regularly teach a Freshman Seminar on athletic amateurism, and how it was never actually intended to level any playing fields. I'll be offering it again in the fall of 2013.)

Spelman will not be the last college to decide the whole enterprise of NCAA sports isn't worth the expense. I'll bet there is trouble coming, first for college football but also for hockey, as the data piles up about the long term effects of repeated concussions. For some schools, dropping contact sports for health reasons will be more palatable than dropping them to save money.

But I maintain my idealism about competitive athletics as a vehicle for the youthful expression of the spirit of excellence, a sphere of achievement that is protected from, if hardly unsullied by, the mercenary compromises of real life. I can't say it any better than George Santayana said it in a sort of throwaway piece he wrote for the Harvard alumni magazine in 1894.
It may seem a ridiculous thing, and yet I think it true, that our athletic life is the most conspicuous and promising rebellion against this industrial tyranny. We elude Mammon only for a few years, which the Philistines think are wasted. We succumb to him soon after leaving college. We sell our birthright for a mess of pottage, and the ancestral garden of the mind for building lots. That garden too often runs to seed, even if we choose a liberal profession, and is overgrown with the thistles of a trivial and narrow scholarship. But wile we are young, and as yet amount to nothing, we retain the privilege of infinite potentiality. The poor actuality has not yet taken its place, and in giving one thing made everything else for ever unattainable. But in youth the intellectual part is too immature to bear much fruit; that would come alter if the freedom could be retained. The body alone has reached perfection, and very naturally the physical life is what tends to occupy the interval of leisure with its exuberances. Such is the origin of our athletics. Their chief value is that they are the first fruits of that spontaneous life, of which the higher manifestations are not suffered to appear. Perhaps it is well that the body should take the lead, since that is the true and safe order of nature. The rest, if it comes, will then rest on a sounder basis.
Congratulations, Yale. Wish it were us but glad it is you!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Are the Resident Deans Faculty? Should They Be? Will They Be?

Are the Resident Deans of the Houses faculty? The question acquired a certain technical significance when the Globe reported that their email had been searched, because there is a special policy about privacy of faculty email. (See my previous post, Email Privacy at Harvard.) But the proposal for an honor code for undergraduates has raised the question of the faculty status of the Resident Deans in another context, because of the accompanying proposal that allegations regarding undergraduate academic integrity in the future be referred not to the Ad Board, which is made up largely of the RDs, but to a new Student-Faculty Judicial Board. It seems to me that this provision raises basic questions about the nature of the College and its educational mission.

Even though I had a hand in drafting the faculty email privacy policy, the attention given to its language and what exactly was meant by "faculty" has seemed to me exaggerated. I have tended to avoid comment on the "are RDs faculty?" issue, not because I was in doubt about it, but for several other reasons.

  • The policy was never well advertised, and I suspect that most faculty were not aware of it. Some of those who would have to respect it may not have known about it either, so I am not sure it is fair to made a federal case out of whether the rule was followed or broken.
  • The more important point seems to me to be whether it accords with prevailing community privacy values to search anyone's email, except for reasons related to litigation, fraud, or government requirements--and whether ordinary courtesy and respect would not call for informing those searched, either before or after the fact.
  • I did not want to get into the minutiae of the Resident Deans having administrative and teaching accounts, of which only the former were searched (which has in any case been mooted by the revelation that in the case of one individual, both accounts were searched).
  • I did this analysis for the benefit of a journalist a few weeks back, and wanted to respect his right to tell the story himself. The story never appeared, and I no longer feel bound to avoid the subject.
Now just as this technicality seems to be fading from significance, and the president has wisely asked a task force to draft a more encompassing privacy policy, the question of the status of the Resident Deans has popped up as part of the proposal that the faculty adopt an honor code for undergraduates. The proposed Student Faculty Judicial Board is actually a body that exists on paper but whose remit is so restricted that to date nothing has ever fallen under it. It seems to me inevitable that if the RDs are no longer the people adjudicating questions of academic integrity, the rationale for their having faculty status becomes much weaker. So I see the honor code proposal as starting to topple a row of dominoes, and I'd like to call attention, especially faculty attention, to the teetering balance in which those dominoes now stand.

Are the Resident Deans faculty, for the purpose of being captured under the "faculty email privacy policy"? The term is never defined, but at least in the discussions I remember (I was out of the picture by the time the policy was adopted), no one suggested that faculty who also have administrative positions would cease to be faculty for the purpose of the policy. But it's too simple to simply say "Resident Deans are faculty." Here is why.

There are thirteen Houses at Harvard. Each has a resident dean. Each of the resident deans of the Houses, right now, holds the rank of Lecturer in some subject or other. That is most definitely a faculty rank, not a high one but not the lowest either. I think most people would say that categories 4 through 12 on page 2 of the FAS Appointments Handbook are faculty and 13-14 are not. So the 13 RDs of the Houses are faculty. But there have been times when that was not the case. Sometimes the "other half" of an RD's appointment has been administrative rather than instructional. Sometimes an Acting RD has been a grad student finishing the PhD. So in those cases the RD would not have been faculty. Also, there are four Resident Deans of Freshmen. They are full-time staff and have no teaching appointment. They do not hold the rank of Lecturer or any other faculty rank. So one might say that it is contingently true that all the RDs of the Houses are faculty.

(Though it was once common to have ladder faculty as Senior Tutors -- Charles Maier in the History Department and John Hutchinson in SEAS both served as Senior Tutors and went on to get tenure -- the last ladder-rank Senior Tutor or Resident Dean was probably Sarolta Takacs in the late 1990s, then an Associate Professor of the Classics and now full professor at Rutgers after a stint as Dean of Sage College.)

What about the fact that the RDs got their faculty appointments only after and by virtue of their selection to be deans? This seems to me irrelevant--and belittling. The various departments and Committees vetted their credentials and certified them as worthy of appointment. When Harvard reports its student-faculty ratio to US News and World Report, I imagine that the RDs must be in the denominator. The root question would be whether they are counted as faculty in the so-called IPEDS data. It doesn't seem right to say that they would be faculty for the purposes that depend on the IPEDS data but somehow for other purposes they are not faculty.

One last note on this, to set straight a prevalent confusion. There is a very clearly defined category of "voting members of the Faculty" (with a capital F -- that is, of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences). There is no ambiguity about that category -- checkers stand at the door of the Faculty Room and make sure that everyone who enters a meeting of the Faculty is a voting member (or a specifically named guest). Now all four possibilities exist with respect to the overlap between faculty and voting members of the Faculty. Professors like me are both faculty and voting members of the Faculty. The Resident Deans of Freshmen are neither. Most Lecturers, though they are faculty, are not voting members of the Faculty; the Resident Deans of the Houses are specially granted voting rights they would not have simply by virtue of their being Lecturers. (Their voting membership in the Faculty means that they could, in principle, rise in an in camera meeting of the Faculty to discuss the situation of an individual student. That is unlikely to occur, but not impossible, at a degree meeting for example.) Finally, there are voting members of the Faculty who are not faculty -- for example, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, a full-time administrator who has been granted voting rights.

Eligibility to be elected as a member of the Faculty Council comes with voting membership, not with faculty status per se.

But why should the Resident Deans of the Houses be faculty? The history illuminates the rationale. I quote from the Report on the Structure of Harvard College, from 1994:

Minutes of faculty meetings from the nineteenth century suggest that as much time was devoted to the discipline of individual students as to anything else. In 1890 responsibility for ordinary discipline was delegated to an Administrative Board, "consisting of members of the Faculty"; serious disciplinary matters were still brought to the full Faculty, as occasionally happens even today. In 1929-30, on the eve of the opening of the first Houses, the Administrative Board consisted of the Dean of the College, five other professors, and the Dean of Freshmen. The Dean of Harvard College had four Assistant Deans responsible for individual students, grouped by class year (two for the Freshmen, one for Sophomores, and one for Juniors and Seniors). The four deans, called the "Chapter of Deans," met with the Dean of the College and the Registrar on Tuesday morning to prepare cases for the Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Administrative Board, at which final decisions were made. 
Though the establishment of the House system led to some changes in personnel, the composition of the Board did not change significantly until the Allston Burr Senior Tutor positions were created. The 1952-53 Dean's report describes the change as follows:
A member of the Faculty has been appointed Allston Burr Senior Tutor for each of the eight units. Relieved of one-half of his normal teaching load, he adds to those duties previously performed by Senior Tutors under the direction of the Masters the new responsibilities transferred from the Dean's Office. The Allston Burr Senior Tutors are all members of the Administrative Board of Harvard College. They have been given special responsibilities, in cooperation with the departments, for the organization of House-centered group tutorial as described below. Their position, it will be seen, is of the greatest importance as liaison and administrative officers, responsible both to the Masters and to the Faculty for the effective development of the individual House units within a unified educational structure for the whole College.
With this change the 1952-53 Administrative Board was comprised of the eight Allston Burr Senior Tutors (mostly teaching faculty), three members at large of the Faculty (tenured professors), and four administrative officers (the Registrar, the Dean of Freshmen, the Dean, and an Associate Dean), for a total of fifteen. 

They key words here are unified educational structure for the whole College. The Allston Burr Senior Tutors -- they were renamed Allston Burr Resident Deans a few years ago -- represent the academic enterprise in the Houses. In their role as advisor to students in the Houses, and in their membership on the Administrative Board with its combined responsibility for both academic integrity and personal behavior, they represent the continuity of scholarship with the rest of life in an academic community.

The 1980-81 report of the Dean of Harvard College explains the educational role of the Senior Tutor as a member of the Administrative Board. (To find this report, follow this link and then go to Sequence Number 19757.)
[T]he bulk of the Board's business is conducted  by the Senior Tutor in private conversations with the  student, before the case comes to the Board. …
The conferences between the student and the Senior  Tutor as the student prepares a statement for the Board are at the heart of the exchange between the student and the Board. The educational experience of coming to terms with one's actions, their consequences for others, and their significance for oneself, is the most intense form of moral education provided by the College. It is the role of the Senior Tutor in this process to encourage the student to reflect carefully on the circumstances surrounding the choices he has made and to help him  articulate the lessons they yield about himself. 
This is what is meant by the proposition that the Board is an educational rather than merely judicial body. It means that the Board, while respectful of equity (this report elsewhere covers that question in a nuanced way), may sometimes respond to identical infractions with different sanctions, the difference depending on how much the student has yet to learn from the experience. It explains why the structure of the Board is so different from ordinary courts, on campus or off -- for example, it is considered natural that the members know a great deal about the students who come before it, whereas in an ordinary judiciary the integrity of the process is supposed to be enhanced by excluding from the jury anyone with prior knowledge of the defendant.

The ideal of the Resident Deans being teaching faculty has been hard to sustain as the productivity demands on teaching faculty have gone up at places like Harvard. Addressing the growing divide between the teaching faculty and the day to day experience of undergraduate life was the broad agenda that Jeremy Knowles set me when he appointed me as the first faculty Dean of Harvard College in decades. Of course the Masters always bridged that divide, but it was part of my charge, as an element of this broad agenda, to reduce the number of Houses whose Senior Tutors were not faculty. They would, I hoped, bring their scholarly training to bear on the problem of educating the students in their Houses about the nature of an academic community and its standards. They would also, I hoped, act as ambassadors to their departments, and help push back against the faculty perception that the College was some kind of adolescent day care center, with huge resources being spent by specialized non-faculty staff on entertainments and diversions of no educational significance.

Sometime early in my deanship I persuaded Dean Knowles to pay for the "teaching halves" of Senior Tutors, so departments could make their decisions about giving them faculty appointments on the basis of academic merit, not budget. But that is a significant budgetary burden: 6.5 faculty FTEs. There have been inevitable pressures to use the "other halves" for internal administrative needs that have to be met anyway, rather than teaching in some department far from University Hall. I was glad to see that the most recent resurgence of that trend was pushed back, so all the "other halves" are again teaching appointments. In my experience, the RDs have always been good teachers and have taken their teaching roles seriously (to be sure, more seriously than certain professors who have referred cheating allegations to the Ad Board!).

If, as has been proposed in the academic integrity report, matters of academic integrity are moved out of the Ad Board, I very much doubt that the educational rationale for the Resident Deans to be teaching faculty will have enough force to be sustainable, given the significant cost.

(The proposal is actually that students be given the option of having their cases heard either by the SFJB or by the Ad Board. But the premise is that students don't trust the Ad Board and will prefer the SFJB because students are on it. There would be some kind of overlapping members hip to maintain "consistency." I suppose there is the possibility that the SFJB will continue to be a dead letter and the Ad Board will deal with everything it has dealt with all along, in which case this blog post will be the least of the things that will have been a waste of time about all this. So let's proceed on the assumption that the proposal not only passes the Faculty, but is successful in practice, and most academic integrity cases will no longer go to the Ad Board.)

Without academic integrity cases, the Ad Board's scope will be disciplinary cases (fistfights, sexual assaults, drunk and disorderly, etc.), matters of academic progress (students flunking out and being readmitted), and exceptions to rules (may I file my study card late because my sister is getting married, or because I am in the national croquet tournament). These cases present ample opportunity for mature conversations with students, and for fostering self-understanding. What they don't seem to me to call for is training as a scholar or membership in a departmental faculty group where community norms can be discussed with those who carry out most undergraduate instruction. Nothing in the academic integrity report suggests that any such change is planned or anticipated (and I haven't inquired). I just think, knowing how the world works, that those 6.5 FTE faculty lines will be reallocated to departments, some of which have been desperate to hire but unable to do so because of fiscal constraints. Or will perhaps just disappear, reducing the Faculty's red ink. Once the holism of the enterprise breaks down, the "unified educational structure of the whole College," the apparatus that implemented it will inevitably be scrutinized for costly and dispensable anachronisms.

At the same time, it is hard to imagine that a judicial board with undergraduate members would or could play the paternalistic educational role described for the Ad Board, sometimes moderating its sanction out of deference for a student's demonstrated self-understanding. There may well be more gained that lost by moving in the direction of the judicial model. For example, it is easier to explain how the same rules apply to everyone and the decisions are cut and dried than to stand behind doing some superficially inconsistent but deeply "right thing" for reasons no one can fully understand, except those who were in the room to hear the discussion. Perhaps student participation in the decision-making will improve student confidence in the outcomes. Perhaps it will improve the perceived or actual quality of the outcomes. It is hard to assess such questions of gain and loss. If student confidence in the disciplinary process remained low after this change had been made, it would not be the first time that one generation of students called for changes that the next generation turned out not to appreciate.

So I can't say how much difference would it make if the Ad Board stopped being a faculty body. But the consequences of the Resident Deans no longer being faculty would ripple into the texture of life in the Houses in ways that are not currently part of the discussion.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Seizing the Opportunity to Restore Trust

The best part of Tuesday's FAS faculty meeting (see the Harvard Magazine site for the most complete account) was President's announcement of the independent authorities she is calling on for help: a privacy task force, and also an outside lawyer to check the facts of the particular email searches that took place recently. What comes from these two initiatives could be very helpful in putting this issue finally to bed and reassuring the community about what may and may not happen in the future.

Let's start with the privacy task force. Here is what President Faust said about it:
I am forming a task force which I will ask to develop recommendations on a set of policies and guidelines about email privacy. Those recommendations will be submitted for community discussion and Corporation consideration by the end of the fall term. I am pleased to report that Professor David Barron, the S. William Green Professor of Public Law at Harvard Law School, has agreed to chair this task force. Professor Barron is a graduate of the College—a history concentrator—and of Harvard Law School. He worked as a journalist early in his career, served as a Supreme Court clerk, and recently completed two years of service heading the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in Washington. I am very grateful to him for agreeing to lead this process. The task force will draw members from across the university and will be broadly consultative in its work.
Professor Barron seems to be a perfect choice to head the group. More importantly, I am thrilled that a University-wide policy will exist. (That is, a better one than the we-can-do-anything-we-want policy that now exists.) Back around 2005 when I started pressing for a policy that would provide some reassurance to FAS faculty, I knew it made no technical sense to have a policy restricted to FAS (consistent with that, can email to be monitored as it enters the domain before it is directed to the FAS or SEAS network?). I also personally felt ethical qualms about leaving the staff exposed while the faculty got strong protections. But I also knew that we had to start somewhere. If I remember correctly, after I stopped being involved Richard Hackman, who recently died, was the one who pressed to get the policy adopted. In Tuesday's meeting, the president remarked, quite correctly, that the policy is ill-known and oddly situated within the Harvard web.

So that is all good. And I personally recognize that this ultimately needs to be a Corporation policy, not one adopted by individual faculties, though of course I hope whatever the task force comes up with will be the subject of faculty discussion and feedback before the final version is adopted.

However, especially because the level of anxiety and mistrust is now so high, I hope the charge of this task force will be broader than the privacy of email. I hate even thinking about this stuff, because I hate to think that anyone in a position of authority at Harvard would need to be told not to do these things. But if part of the objective is to reassure members of the community that the University administration is not monitoring or snooping on their communications, then the policy needs to cover more than email. (And more than faculty, staff, and student email, by the way: The Alumni Association runs a server that gives alumni "" email addresses.)

A proper policy should cover all network usage, including what web sites are visited, for example, It would be unfortunate if the rule was "no, we did not peek at your email, but we did notice that you visited the following URLs …–no policy against our peeking at that." Likewise, any form of online social communication--tweets, texts, etc. And while we are at it, "pen register" data, that is, phone numbers dialed, and the numbers from which phone calls have been received, for both land lines and Harvard-owned cell phones. (Again, we don't want some future resident dean to have to answer to "We don't know whether you were emailing any Crimson reporters, because of course there are rules that say we can't check those records, but we did notice that you have been calling these two reporters.") There are plenty of other examples one could come up with–for example, Harvard will not install key-logging software on Harvard computers, in order to capture employees' passwords. (I assume wiretap law applies to Harvard phones, though I don't actually know that.) And maybe the policy needs to say something about the extent of Harvard's right to unlock my office door while I am out to lunch and search the files on my hard drive. If the administration of the university won't say it won't, except under limited circumstances, faculty and staff will have to assume they will.

I should stress that there can be legitimate reasons for accessing any of these. If a student disappears, it is certainly important to be able to find out if he or she has been communicating with anyone. The billing office certainly looks international calls, though I doubt there is any ordinary business reason these days to monitor domestic phone numbers called. And so on. It is a measure of the current anxiety that anyone would even think of the possibility that these things might be monitored for less than grave reasons, but the best way to ease anxiety would be set limits.

Now there is another view on all this–that the faculty policy is wrong and we should all grow up and realize that a university is a business like any other, and there is no more reason for professors or any other Harvard employees to have expectations of private communication than there is for Walmart employees. That is the overarching University policy and it has been posited in several commentaries on the current flap, including one in Business Week. The problem with this is that universities operate on trust to a degree that is hard for business leaders to understand (and which they sometimes resent and scoff at when they do understand it). I could riff on that for a long time, but that presumption of trust stems from two sources–it is a precondition for genuinely open and free scholarly inquiry, and it is the spirit in which the social and moral development of the young best thrives. It is not too much to say that the deepest blow to the sense of community trust was the first one in this affair, when senior Harvard officials did not trust that the resident deans were properly keeping confidential information from the press, even though, through the churn of thousands of pages of documents through the fall term, not a single student document had fallen into the wrong hands.

Aside from such arguments on principle for a robust privacy policy, there are practical reasons. If faculty actually think their email is being monitored, they will switch to Gmail. If they think their office phones are being monitored, they will use their private cell phones. Harvard would then have to strengthen its policies about doing Harvard business–whatever the edge of that may be–only on Harvard networks and computers. That would get very ugly and messy. Plainly that is true for certain kinds of data; the university has fiduciary obligations to control certain data, just as the SEC sets requirements on investment banks that in turn require bank business to be conducted on bank computers. But if I email a PhD student of mine from 30 years ago to set up a lunch while he is in town, is that personal or is that Harvard business? There is a risk that Harvard faculty would simply offshore to Google as much of their communications as possible rather than trying to distinguish in advance between things they don't mind university officials seeing and things they do.

President Faust also said on Tuesday,
Dean Smith, Dean Hammonds and I want to be sure that we now have a full understanding of the searches that were undertaken. To that end, I am asking Michael Keating, a leading Boston lawyer from outside Harvard, to take the necessary steps to verify that the information we have discussed today is, as we believe, a full and accurate statement of the searches and to report to me. Mr. Keating is Chairman of Litigation at Foley Hoag and a former trustee of Williams College.
Now Mr. Keating's task seems to be quite limited. His job, it would appear, is to make sure there will be no more surprises like the revelations at Tuesday's meeting. And it seems that his only charge is to report to the president; the faculty may or may not find out what he discovers.

A number of faculty have already voiced their disappointment about the limits on Mr. Keating's job. They would prefer a bit more quantitative clarity on the assurances that faculty (and student) email are searched only "rarely," for example. How frequently is "rarely"? And how often has it been done, as was done on this occasion, for reasons other than responding to clear evidence that laws have been broken or the personal safety of an individual is in jeopardy?

It would be good to get answers to such broader questions, though I doubt we will. But perhaps Mr. Keating's mandate could be just a bit more encompassing on the present incident. Perhaps he can review the paper- and email-trail that would confirm the rationale that has been consistently offered for undertaking the search–that senior officials were alarmed about the possibility that confidential student records would appear in the pages of the Crimson. To quote from my March 12 blog post, posted just after the release of the Smith-Hammonds statement, now known to be incomplete in certain details,
So the whole business remains a bit puzzling. The statement concludes that forwarding the email was "inadvertent," and I am glad that the conclusion lines up with the facts and that no action has been taken against the dean. According to the statement, however, the investigation was undertaken because of "the need to determine whether a member of the Administrative Board had compromised the confidentiality of case information." But the search did not, and COULD NOT HAVE, settled that question at all. Having cited the limited nature of the search in justifying it, the deans are suggesting that they would not have stooped to do a more invasive search if this one had failed. But then all the search could do is figure out who forwarded the message--and then only if the forwarding had been done innocently, without bothering even to change the subject line. No part of this "investigation" had a prayer of determining anything about inappropriate disclosure of case information, which in any case there is no reason to think ever happened.
 It would be a fine thing if Mr. Keating can review the contemporaneous deliberations about undertaking the search and reassure the president–and ideally the whole community–that the search was undertaken for good reasons. To quote the editorial opinion of the Boston Globe,
The administrators say they were concerned about potential breaches in student confidentiality; but there had been no such breaches in the news leaks. Much more likely, Harvard’s leaders were concerned about their own reputations and that of the university. The search was inappropriate — and out of step with the university’s responsibility to protect free expression.
I hope Mr. Keating's investigation could get to the bottom of this aspect of the controversy. Because as long as faculty wonder whether, in practice, the University considers the mere suspicion that people are talking with the media to be extraordinary circumstances justifying searches of electronic communications, the best privacy policy in the world will not restore the sense of community trust.