Honor Code (Lessons 8 & 9)

This wasn’t right, damn it. This wasn’t fair.” –Quote attributed to one of the Winklevoss twins in Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires.

In our next lecture, we are going to re-enact another pivotal scene from the film “The Social Network” (see the YouTube clip posted below), a scene based on chapter 16 of the bestseller The Accidental Billionaires. (Cf. the fascinating prologue in Aaron Greenspan’s book Authoritas (ThinkPress, 2008), a memoir of his years at Harvard.) This scene takes place in the spring of 2004 in the office of Larry Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary and distinguished economist who was the president of Harvard University at the time. In summary, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss arrange a meeting with the president of Harvard (in real life, they waited in line like everyone else to meet Dr Summers during his monthly office hours), and they are going to accuse a fellow student (sophomore Mark Zuckerberg) of violating Harvard’s Honor Code, which reads as follows:

Members of the Harvard College community commit themselves to producing academic work of integrity – that is, work that adheres to the scholarly and intellectual standards of accurate attribution of sources, appropriate collection and use of data, and transparent acknowledgement of the contribution of others to their ideas, discoveries, interpretations, and conclusions. Cheating on exams or problem sets, plagiarizing or misrepresenting the ideas or language of someone else as one’s own, falsifying data, or any other instance of academic dishonesty violates the standards of our community, as well as the standards of the wider world of learning and affairs.

We will thus need three students to re-enact this pivotal scene: one to play the role of President Summers and two to play the roles of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. In the meantime, please think about the following three questions:

1. In your opinion, are the twins right? Did Zuckerberg violate the Honor Code?

2. Does Harvard have “jurisdiction” (i.e. legal authority) to investigate this alleged breach of the university’s honor code?

3. If this dispute is not a matter under Harvard’s jurisdiction, then what court would have jurisdiction to hear the Winklevoss’s allegations, a State court of general jurisdiction or an Article III federal tribunal?

In addition to the technical legal issue of “subject-matter jurisdiction” (i.e. the legal authority of a court to hear a case), we will also discuss the fundamental issue of personal ethics. Simply put, how do you decide between right and wrong?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Law. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s