The Slatest

Harvard Secretly Photographed Classrooms to See if Students Were Actually Going to Class


Photo by Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

Harvard University revealed this week that it secretly photographed 2,000 undergraduate students attending classes in lecture halls last spring as part of an effort to measure attendance. The study, approved by the university administration, installed cameras in 10 lecture halls that took a photo every minute. The images were then analyzed by a computer program to assess how many seats were taken.

Students and teachers in the classrooms where not told about the study to avoid biasing the results, Harvard administrators said. “Professors whose lectures were monitored were told in August and all gave permission for the data to be used in the study,” Vice Provost Peter Bol, who oversaw the study, told the Associated Press. “Students were not told and the images themselves were destroyed, he said.”

“Prior to beginning the study, Bol said, he was given approval by Harvard’s Institutional Review Board, a federally mandated body that assesses academic research,” the Harvard Crimson reports. “According to Bol, members of that committee said that his work ‘did not constitute human subjects research,’ and, as such, did not require notification or permission of those involved.” A Harvard spokesman told NPR the university is now in the process of informing the students who may have been photographed during the study.