Harvard Dean Pornography Case

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Harvard Dean Pornography Case

Unraveling the Case step by step:

  1. A technician found thousands of explicit (though not illegal) pornographic images on a Harvard dean’s PC in his home office, which he reported to the Harvard administration. In the end the dean resigned his position as dean, but kept his position as a tenured faculty.
    Should the technician have reported the existence of pornography on the dean’s PC?

  2. Both the dean’s home as well as his PC were property of Harvard. The dean had run short of disk space, and as a Harvard employee asked another Harvard employee (the technician) to do a disk upgrade. Harvard policy prohibits “inappropriate or obscene” information on its computers, and further specifies that permission is needed for any private use of its computers. The technician’s upgrade was taking a long time (upload to mainframe, install new drive, download files again), and the technician noticed some long file names, thus discovering the nature of the data. The supervisor asked the technician why the upgrade was taking so long.
    Should the technician have reported the existence of pornography on the dean’s PC?

  3. If not questioned by a supervisor, should the technician have reported the existence of pornography on the dean’s PC?
    Is the dean’s violation of the computer policy use big or small? Would it have made a difference if the information being disclosed was an HIV-positive report from a clinic?

Postscript: the technician was a woman, and the technician is the one who took the story to the newspaper after deciding that Harvard’s punishment of the dean was not sufficient.

(see next page for Critical-thinking lapses…)

Examples of Critical-thinking Lapses

From a Harvard Law Professor:

Back at Harvard, Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz said that, though he did not know the details of the case, what [the dean] chooses to do privately is his own business and only becomes the university’s concern if it is illegal. “As long as it’s done in private and doesn’t hurt anyone it is not the school’s business,” he said. “I don’t think it matters that he is the Divinity School dean.”

Circular argument. By definition what the dean does on his Harvard-owned PC is not “private.”
From an ACLU representative:

“The episode raises questions about the right to privacy and questions about punishing people because they have interests in sexual images,” said Sarah Wunsch, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The “right to privacy” is an appeal to authority, where the authority here is the assumed hypernorm of privacy. There is, however, basically no right to privacy in the use of an employer-owned computer.

The real violation of privacy was caused not by Harvard, but by the Boston Globe newspaper.

The comment on “punishing people because they have interests in sexual images” is not accurate. The Dean was punished not because of interest in sexual images, but because of violation of university policy, and additionally because it could cost the Dean his ordination, which in turn also could affect his ability to be Dean of a divinity school.

Another newspaper article

This was entitled “Do computer docs need a Hippocratic oath?”

This title suggests an analogy between the computer tech and a physician. This analogy breaks down quickly, as can be seen by diagramming the entities and relations involved.

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