At a Fortune conference earlier this week, Larry Summers said in an interview that he learned one invaluable lesson about people while running Harvard: “If an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole.” Summers was not speaking generally about assholes but two in particular, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who in 2004, complained to the then Harvard president that Mark Zuckerberg had stolen their idea for Facebook. In the Social Network, Summers is portrayed as being a bit brusque with the Winklevii, essentially to fuck off and go waste someone else’s time, a portrayal he has described as entirely accurate, and for which he makes no apology, on account of the asshole assessment. Apparently the twins caught wind of Summers’ comments and yesterday took the time to respond, via open letter. Spoiler alert: they’re not happy (with Summers’ lack of ‘tact,’ his refusal to shake their hands, the sight of his feet on his desk, and this ‘unprecedented betrayal’):
Dear President Faust,
We (Cameron Winklevoss ’04, Divya Narendra ’04 and Tyler Winklevoss ’04) are writing to discuss the recent remarks made by current Charles W. Eliot University Professor of Harvard Lawrence H. Summers at Fortune’s “Brainstorm Tech Conference” on July 19, 2011. Specifically, Mr. Summers referred to us as “a—–” for wearing ties and jackets to our meeting with him in April of 2004. To be clear, his remark was not limited to us, but extends to any undergraduate who chooses a particular form of attire.
As a matter of background, on March 15, 2004 we petitioned the Administrative Board (Ad Board) of Harvard regarding a disciplinary issue concerning Mark Zuckerberg ’06-’07 in connection with the development of a website the four of us had been working on together. Despite what was, from our perspective, a clear violation of the Student Handbook, which states “all students will be honest and forthcoming in their dealings with members of [the Harvard] community,” the Ad Board declined to involve itself. As students of a university that promulgated an expectation of “intellectual honest[y] [and] respect for the dignity of others,” we sought a discussion with then President Summers regarding what we believed to be an inconsistency in the University’s posture on this matter.
As a result, we decided to attend student office hours of the President, a two hour monthly block of time specifically allotted by President Summers for students to discuss any and all matters of concern with him. We sent a polite and rather un-swaggering email beforehand for the purposes of background (please see attached). It should be noted that Mr. Zuckerberg’s name was purposely omitted from our email in an effort to focus the discussion on what we perceived to be a larger issue than the incident specific to ourselves. Simply put, we went to his office seeking advice and mentorship, not further conflict.
At office hours, we waited in his reception area but were told that we would have to return next month because there were more students in the queue than time allowed. In April of 2004, we returned to office hours and were successful in meeting with President Summers. His manner was not inconsistent with his reputation and present day admissions of being tactfully challenged. It was not his failure to shake hands with the three of us upon entering his office (doing so would have required him to take his feet off his desk and stand up from his chair), nor his tenor that was most alarming, but rather his scorn for a genuine discourse on deeper ethical questions, Harvard’s Honor Code, and its applicability or lack thereof.
We now further understand why our meeting was less than productive; someone who does not value ethics with respect to his own conduct, would likely have little interest in this subject as it related to the conduct of others. Perhaps there is a ‘variability of aptitude’ for decency and professionalism among university faculty.
Regardless, it is deeply disturbing that a professor of this university openly admits to making character judgments of students based on their appearance. It goes without saying that every student should feel free to bring issues forward, dress how they see fit, or express themselves without fear of prejudice or public disparagement from a fellow member of the community, much less so from a faculty member.
Ironically, our choice of attire that day was made out of respect and deference to the office of the President. As the current President, we respectfully ask for you to address this unprecedented betrayal of the unique relationship between teacher and student. We look forward to your response.
Cameron Winklevoss ’04 Divya Narendra ’04 Tyler Winklevoss ’04
Your move, Lar.