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Harvard’s Dean Steps Down, Acknowledges Role in Email Search Scandal


Dr. Evelynn Hammonds has faced backlash for authorizing faculty email searches.Dr. Evelynn Hammonds has faced backlash for authorizing faculty email searches.

Dr. Evelynn M. Hammonds, the first Black and female to serve as dean of Harvard College, says that she plans to step down from her post on July 1, but forcefully denied that her departure is in any way related to her controversial handling of a student cheating scandal that was unearthed last year at the Ivy-League university.

As dean, Hammonds was in charge of leading the investigation into widespread allegations involving academic misconduct by more than 100 students on a take-home final exam that was administered in May 2012. Although the investigation concluded with the suspension of scores of students, it was revealed that, over several months and on more than one occasion, Hammonds authorized the search of university email accounts belonging to resident deans in hopes of finding out who leaked a confidential memo about the cheating scandal to the school’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson.

After the email searches were made public and reported in The Boston Globe, both Hammonds and Dr. Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, issued numerous apologies to the campus community.

In an emotional speech before her colleagues, Hammonds took responsibility for the searches and acknowledged that “serious mistakes” were made during the investigation. She told her colleagues that she was following the same advice that she gives to her son when she instructs him to “own up to your mistakes, to apologize and to make amends” during those moments when he errs.

“The email controversy was difficult,” the 60-year-old Hammonds, who took the helm as dean in June 2008, said this week. “But it was not a motivating factor in my decision to step down as dean. I have been in discussions to return to academia and my research for some time.”

According to a statement released by the university, Hammonds — who also holds the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz professor of the history of science and of African and African-American Studies — will take a sabbatical before returning full-time to the faculty, where she will direct a new program for the study of race and gender in science and medicine that will be housed in the W.E.B Du Bois Institute.

The institute’s director, Dr. Henry “Skip” Louis Gates Jr., could not be reached for comment.

A prolific scholar who has held teaching and research positions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California Los Angeles and Hampshire College, before landing back at her alma mater in 2002, Hammonds has authored several books, including The Nature of Difference: Sciences of Race in the United States from Jefferson to Genomics, which she co-edited with Dr. Rebecca M. Herzig, a professor at Bates College. She is an expert on the intersection of race, science and medicine.

Although there was an immediate backlash against her by the faculty once it was revealed that she had authorized the email search, faculty and administrators alike have generally voiced approval for her leadership over the past five years, and say that her overall tenure as dean should not be measured by this one incident.

Hammonds has been “an important partner in our efforts to reinvigorate the student experience at Harvard College,” says Dr. Michael D. Smith, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Faust lauded Hammonds and pointed out that she has “led Harvard College through years of remarkable transformation” and had “fully invested herself in improving the experience of our undergraduates both inside and outside the classroom and in promoting a culture of inclusion and community across the college.”

The university has not named her successor.

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