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IT, Brutus!

The relationship between a very competent and savvy IT Manager and the Head slowly begins to deteriorate. Increasingly, the individual criticizes the Head behind her back and engages faculty and staff in a negative dialogue about her, primarily via e mail.

The IT Manager approaches the Chair of the Education Committee of the Board about the fact that a school climate or at least a faculty climate survey might be a good idea and that he has the necessary skills to devise such a tool. The IT Manager does not share this idea with the Head beforehand, and the Board member agrees to it without consulting either the Board Chair or the Head. This particular Board member has a bad habit of meddling in the daily life of the School and of crossing boundaries of authority and channels of communication. This Consultant has warned about the pitfalls of having an Education Subcommittee of the board: it has a tendency to interfere in operational issues.

The Head then sees a request of the Board member to approve a survey format and its content which includes questions about her own performance. The Head and the Board Chair are furious but because the Head just terminated another senior staff member, the timing is poor for her to take on this individual.

At some point, the Head and Board Chair begin to suspect that their confidential communications to one another, to other Board members and to the School Attorney are being discussed internally. Staff members seem to know their next move as well as their reaction to the proposed survey. The faculty is now pressing for the staff survey to be completed, but the Chair aborts the effort because it is nearing the end of the year and the survey seems like an attempt by the IT individual to widen his sphere of influence.

At this point, the Chair and the Head become more suspicious and hire a technology forensic auditor who finds internet security breaches and inappropriate control tools in the hands of the IT manager who also operated these from his home. By this time, the IT Manager along with other faculty whom he has recruited are engaging in an active internal e mail campaign to have the head removed for “poor performance”

The beleaguered Head submits her resignation effective at the end of the following school year after a long and successful career. The IT person is terminated.

What is clear from this unfortunate incident is that the School had entrusted the IT Manager with broad and unchecked power and authority over the entire website and all e-mail communications of employees and even parents. A number of e-mails complaining to the Board about the Head came from parents’ e-mail accounts, and the parents later indicated that they never sent any such e-mails.

Lessons learned here: never put so much power in the hands of one IT person (or other single staff member); vet your IT personnel, especially the ones at the top, very carefully for their professional integrity, and willingness to follow appropriate protocols; and periodically have a forensic audit undertaken by an outside technology firm to assess the defenses , not only against potential external internet attacks , but also against internal misuse as well. Finally and maybe most importantly, always ensure that healthy board governance is in place so board members do not interact inappropriately with members of staff, or engage inappropriately in the operations of the school, no matter what their position.

John Littleford
Senior Partner