Sure, if installing SETI@home on servers you administer is against regulations, your boss has the legal right to discipline or fire the person who installs it.
But does that give your boss the right to mock you in public?
Tom Hayes, Director of something-or-other at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, thinks so. After firing a 63-year-old programmer under the circumstances described above, he told the Associated Press:
I understand his desire to search for intelligent life in outer space, because obviously he doesn’t find it in the mirror in the morning…I think that people can be comfortable that security has beamed this man out of our building.
If you were Tom Hayes’ boss, would you be pleased by this?
Most places I’ve worked, managers publicly trashing a former employee would be disciplined, possibly fired. (I say “would be fired” because I’ve never met one foolish enough to try it, so I can’t say with certainty.)
Here’s a typical AP Wire story about this incident–up top, I linked instead to the Cleveland Plain Dealer story for two reasons.
First, it’s got some additional detail the AP story doesn’t appear to have, taken from the fired programmer’s SETI@home profile (which, you’ll note, does not match the quotes from the story–presumably, it was changed after his firing).
Second, its author, Tom Wendling, also seems to find the story humorous:
But on Thursday, Charles E. Smith went where no department employee has gone before - he is the first to be fired for using state property to search for alien beings.
Like I said, installing unauthorized software can be a firing offense, either by rigid application of the rule book or by the details of the specific incident. It may be that Charles E. Smith got what he deserved (though I doubt it).
The tone of the story suggests more is at work in this case, though: The very idea of intelligent extraterrestrial life is silly, stupid, shameful–at least to Tom Hayes, possibly to his superiors, and certainly to quite a few others.
Do you know anyone who thinks intelligent extraterrestrial life is implausible? Or that the search for it should be ridiculed?