Robert Dunne, a computer-science lecturer popular among students for his course on computers and the law, was found dead Saturday in a vacation cottage he was renting in Rhode Island. He was 59.

The cause of death is not yet known, according to the state medical examiner, although police say they believe Dunne died of head injuries sustained in an apparent fall down a flight of stairs.

A caretaker of the house Dunne was renting on Block Island found the lecturer on Saturday morning and called police at about 9:30 a.m., said Vincent Carlone, the chief of the New Shoreham Police Department. Dunne, who joined the Yale faculty in 1999, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“As you can imagine, we are all in shock,” said Avi Silberschatz, the chairman of the Computer Science Department.

Word of Dunne’s death began to spread throughout the department over the weekend. It was not clear exactly when Dunne died, but Carlone said it appeared he fell down the stairs from the cottage’s second floor and struck his head on a tile floor shortly before he was found Saturday. The cause of his death is awaiting further study, said Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

But Carlone said police believe his death was an accident. “You could see clearly what happened there,” he said. “There’s nothing to indicate anything other than a fall down the stairs.”

Dunne, an attorney by trade, joined the Yale faculty in 1999 and was later named a senior lecturer. He served as a co-director of Yale’s Center for Internet Studies and was a fellow of Silliman College.

An expert on Internet crime and digital privacy, Dunne was particularly well-known for his thrice-weekly lecture, Computers and the Law, which was among the University’s most heavily enrolled courses. In 2006, the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa awarded him the William Clyde DeVane Medal, the highest honor conferred for undergraduate teaching at Yale.

Silberschatz said it was not yet known whether another faculty member could be recruited quickly enough to teach Computers and the Law this fall as scheduled. But he said he intends for the course to remain as one of the department’s offerings.

Dunne, who Carlone said was vacationing on Block Island by himself, was divorced and had one daughter, Silberschatz said. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

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