UC Leaders Present Student Opinion Survey to Email Privacy Policy Task Force

Undergraduate Council President Tara Raghuveer ’14 and UC Vice President Jen Q. Zhu ’14 presented on Tuesday a UC-administered student opinion survey to the task force assembled to review University email privacy policy in the wake of last spring’s email search scandal.

The meeting was one of several efforts by the task force to reach out to students, faculty, and staff to better understand how different community members feel about email privacy. The task force, composed of 14 professors and deans from across the University, is expected to complete its work by the end of the fall semester and present its recommendations to University President Drew G. Faust by January.

During Tuesday’s presentation, Raghuveer and Zhu highlighted some of the results of their 12-question email privacy survey, which was administered online and drew responses from 251 undergraduates. According to Zhu, the survey showed that many respondents were not very aware of Harvard’s privacy policy governing student email accounts, but once presented with the policy, most respondents thought it was clear.

In addition, more than 98 percent of respondents reported that students should at some point be notified about an administrative search of their account, and 63 percent said students should be notified prior to a search.

Law School professor David J. Barron ’89, the chair of the email privacy policy task force, wrote in an email Tuesday that the task force was “impressed” by the UC’s presentation.


“Among other things, the UC presentation conveyed clearly the important role transparency can play in reinforcing trust in any policy regarding electronic communications,” wrote Barron, a former Crimson President.

Raghuveer and Zhu said that after their presentation, they fielded questions from task force members on a variety of issues. Task force members asked whether Raghuveer and Zhu believe there should be a University-wide email privacy policy or whether there should be specific policies for different groups, and, if so, who should be authorizing these searches, according to Raghuveer and Zhu.

“It was encouraging to hear how focused a lot of the particular task force members were on ensuring that the student perspective was well-represented in their discussions,” Raghuveer said in an interview with The Crimson after the meeting.

The meeting comes six months after the UC unanimously approved a resolution expressing “tremendous concern” over revelations that Harvard administrators conducted secret searches of resident deans’ email accounts in connection with the Government 1310 cheating scandal. In the same resolution, the UC requested that UC representatives be present for a meeting of the email privacy task force, a request that was fulfilled by Tuesday’s meeting.

Although there has been no indication that administrators probed student email accounts in connection with the email search scandal, student fears were stoked when rumors spread that the Office of Student Life had been tracking student listservs in the hours before River Run festivitiesa claim that administrators firmly denied.

Soon after, the UC drafted a memorandum on Harvard’s undergraduate email privacy policy, recommending that administrators make the policy more specific and more accessible. The memo also requested that administrators divulge the number of times student emails have been searched in the past.

Following the drafting, Raghuveer and Zhu presented the memo to Barron, who recommended that Raghuveer and Zhu provide a more precise picture of student concerns about the email policy. This recommendation led to the creation of the student opinion survey that was presented Tuesday.

The task force’s private meeting Tuesday with Raghuveer and Zhu comes before the first of two scheduled open community meetings for the group this month, with the first one slated for Wednesday at Harvard’s Longwood campus. The task force has also launched an online discussion blog for community members to share their thoughts on email privacy policy at Harvard.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @StevenSJLee.