By Stephanie Simon
BOSTON (Reuters) - The dean of Harvard College, Evelynn Hammonds, announced on Tuesday that she would step down this summer following months of controversy over her decision to authorize secret searches of faculty email.
Hammonds, who will remain a professor at the prestigious university, acknowledged given conflicting accounts about her decision to scan the subject lines of email accounts belonging to 16 deans, in search of correspondence relating to a major cheating scandal among Harvard students.
She apologized to the faculty last month and acknowledged that the episode had eroded trust on campus.
Hammonds, who was the first African-American and the first woman to be appointed dean of Harvard College, did not refer to the cheating scandal or the email search in a brief statement issued Tuesday as she announced she would step down on July 1. She had served as dean for five years.
"Being dean of Harvard College has been an immensely rewarding experience for me, but I miss engaging deeply with my scholarship and teaching," Hammonds said.
Hammonds authorized two separate searches to try to identify the dean who leaked a confidential memo about a large student cheating case to reporters for the school newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. She said no emails were opened and no content was read, but acknowledged she had investigators scan the subject lines and search for the student reporters' names. The deans were not notified of the search.
Her apology last month did not quell the anger on campus. The Crimson called for Hammonds' resignation in an editorial that said her handling of the email searches "damages Harvard as an institution and as a community."
Hammonds was also criticized for the slow pace of investigation into the cheating scandal. The first allegations that students had plagiarized and collaborated on a take-home final surfaced last spring, but it was not until this winter that the university announced about 60 students had been suspended and about 30 put on disciplinary probation.
A physicist and engineer by training, Hammonds said she will take a sabbatical, then return to Harvard to head up a new program looking at the role of race and gender in science and medicine.
Harvard President Drew Faust praised Hammonds in a statement, saying she had revitalized undergraduate programs and promoted "a culture of inclusion and community."
(Reporting by Stephanie Simon; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Nick Zieminski and Andre Grenon)