The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits our government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments.
In other words, for a country to be ruled by laws, all punishment must fit the crime.
Does it? What if we have an institution that is ruled by honor, instead of ruled by laws? Does punishment need to fit the crime then?
When I was a young, untenured assistant professor at UCLA, we had a case where a graduate student was caught cheating when taking his Ph.D. qualifying examine. We had a meeting among the professors and the question was what should be the punishment.
There wasn't any question about the crime, the nature or the seriousness. The student admitted the wrongdoing and so did his accomplices. The only remaining question was the punishment.
Keep in mind that in a research university, almost all foreign graduate students were supported by government research grants, brought in by professors. So this was not just a student. This was someone's property. To lose him after two years meant that one of my senior colleagues would have to forfeit his investment.
Being the lowest notch on the totem pole, my natural course of action would be to shut up and let my senior colleagues hashed things out. But I didn't. I spoke up and I said,
"The issue here is not about crime and punishment. The issue here is whether or not UCLA is one governed by laws or governed by honor. If we believe we are an institution of honor, then there is no question that the student should be expeled. Punishment need not fit the crime."
Obviously the student was not expeled and when came time for me to be considered tenure, I was.
Recently the CEO of Yahoo was caught lying on his resume, that he had graduated with a double major, one in accounting and one in computer science, when in fact, he hadn't. He had a degree in accounting but not in engineering.
Strictly speaking, he did not lie. He never actually mis-spoke in public about his academic record. And he could conveniently push the responsibilities down to some low level staffers who might have misrepresented him. But this was not a one-time event.
In fact, the discrepancy had been in public records for years and he never bothered to correct it. Moreover, there was third-party testimonial that stated when interviewed, as he was praised for his qualification, he was asked about his unique double major and he skillfully sidetracked the discussion without offering a correction.
Should he have been fired?
There are two counter arguments.
One is that there was no official computer science major back in the days when he was an undergraduate. He did take courses in programming and would have, could have gotten the double major if there was such an option.
In addition, even though he was formally educated as an accountant, he had worked many years in the technical field so by experience alone, he should be able to call himself an engineer. Many people do. You don't need a degree to be an engineer.
The other argument is that punishment should fit the crime. And this is not even a crime.
Obviously the only people who were responsible for imposing punishment on a CEO was the Board of Directors. And I wonder if there might be a junior member sitting in that room itching to make a passionate plead that Yahoo is indeed a place of honor and punishment need not fit the crime.
Recently we interviewed with Brian Chee, someone well known to the LoveMyTool community as an editor for InfoWorld and the technical lead for Interop network. We were very excited talking to Brian about his work, past and present, and we discussed his upcoming involvement with the TWIT network, about a potential new netcast show on enterprise technology.
A day after we posted the video interview, Brian emailed us to remind us that his involvement with TWIT was limited to helping his friend who is to be the official host of the show, that at most he will be the co-host.
I went back to the video and I was satisfied that we did not misrepresent him. There was no need for Brian to be concerned.
But he did it anyway. As a man of honor, he would never lie about himself and he does not make a habit of having someone else lie for him. For him, not correcting someone or not preventing someone who would inadvertently misrepresent him is the same as lying.
In academia and in the business world, we meet people, lots of people. Some of whom we call our friends and some of whom we call acquaintances.
We know why we don't mix the two.
I have very few friends. Life is too short for me to consider someone a friend unless I am certain that they are also someone of honor and someone of integrity.
I have a very good friend, Paul, whom I admire tremendously. Paul gave me my first engineering job while I was still in college. He had retired for many years and was recently ordained as the deacon of his church. Paul and his wife now live in New Mexico and together have eight children, all married, and over twenty grand kids.
Paul is a man of honor and absolute integrity, always doing the right thing. He didn't just try to do the right thing. He always did the right thing, no matter the price.
When I first met Paul I asked him how he kept that up and he said simply, "I can live with the punishment, just can't live with the crime."
Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.