Amid a buzz of controversy about her role in invading the privacy of several Harvard staff members, Evelynn Hammonds, the 60 year old Dean of Harvard College, will step down on July 1, five years and one month after she became both the first African-American and first female to occupy the highest office in Harvard's undergraduate school. On Tuesday morning Harvard officials announced Hammonds' ouster among a list of her accomplishments during her tenure as Dean, including the establishment of "two academic integrity committees focused on strengthening academic integrity at Harvard College" and an array of student services. Understandably, the list omits Hammonds' decision to authorize the search of staff members' Harvard.edu email account after the contents of a confidential message were divulged to The Harvard Crimson.
According to The Crimson, Hammonds announced on April 2 that she had authorized the search of staff members' personal Harvard email accounts because university officials believed that a resident dean (an individual who advises students who live in Harvard's house system) had leaked to several Crimson reporters a sensitive message pertaining to the massive cheating scandal that struck Harvard's Introduction to Congress course in the spring of 2012. In the weeks beforehand, Hammonds had characterized the search as much less invasive, targeting only resident deans' administrative email accounts — which stay the same even as resident deans come and go — instead of the same resident deans' personal Harvard addresses. (In the end, a single dean was "threatened" with sanctions — but not fired.) "I and others, entrusted with administering our university business, made serious mistakes, and I stand here to apologize and to join in the commitment to learn lessons for the future," Hammonds said in early April.
Within a month of admitting to the wider scope of the email search, Hammonds began preparing to step down, and reportedly spent much of April and May negotiating the terms of her departure. According to Tuesday's announcement, Hammonds will land at Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, where she will study the impact of race and gender in scientific fields. Before arriving, however, she plans to take a sabbatical of unspecified length. Given the events of the past year — rampant cheating, uproar over how Harvard planned to treat accused cheaters, and finally the controversial email searches she authorized — Hammonds is going to need it.