Harvard Secret Photos : 2000 students photographed without consent in Harvard study

Harvard Secret Photos : University Under Fire For Secret Classroom Photos

Harvard University has admitted to secretly photographing students in classes in 10 lecture halls, in which more than 2,000 students were enrolled, as part of a study of classroom attendance.

The experiment was disclosed at a faculty meeting Tuesday and first reported in The Harvard Crimson student newspaper.

The study was done by Harvard’s Initiative for Learning and Teaching, overseen by Vice Provost Peter Bol, and authorized by the school’s Institutional Review Board, to monitor how students cut class or arrive late or early.

Professors whose lectures were monitored were told in August and all gave permission for the data to be used in the study, he said. Students were not told and the images themselves were destroyed, he said.

Students and teachers were not notified because researchers did not want to introduce potential bias into the study, Harvard administrators said. The cameras took pictures every minute and a computer program used them to count empty and occupied seats.

“We did not want to bias the sample. We did not want individual students to be tracked or in any way identified. And we did not want the results to be used for the purpose of evaluating the teachers,” said Bol in a statement.

Brett Biebelberg, a junior involved in student government, called the study’s secretive nature “strikingly hypocritical,” given that the university recently adopted an honor code for the first time.

Others around campus are outraged at the secrecy of the administration.

“Of course it’s reprehensible, first of all, because the students weren’t informed and the instructor wasn’t informed. I don’t subscribe to the method of judging the quality of lectures on the basis of student attendance,” said German professor John Hamilton.

“It was shocking and surprising, but I guess it’s just another one of the things the administration does,” said student Angie Berkowitz.

Harvard in March 2013 was criticized for secretly searching the university email accounts of 16 deans to find out who leaked information about a cheating scandal to the media. That led to new privacy policies on electronic communication this past spring.

President Drew Faust said she will have the latest case reviewed by a panel that oversees the newly established electronic communications policies.

Officials said that all 2,000 students used in the study are being notified.