Ethics as a Conversation

The best way to approach an apparent ethics violation is as a misunderstanding that can be resolved informally among the people involved. This means that if I feel I have been wronged by someone, I should assume that that person was acting in good faith, but had perhaps been misinformed in some way. Likewise, if someone accuses me of wrongdoing, I should assume that this person has come upon information that would indeed suggest so, but that (since I’ve done nothing wrong, of course) there’s been some mistake. What we should not do is to take immediate offense, either because we’ve been wronged, or because we’ve been accused of wrongdoing. Very often, a solution is possible if we presume that all the people involved are imperfect people who trying to be as good as they can.

This idea is codified in the Academy of Management’s Code of Ethics as follows:

When AOM members have substantial reason to believe that there has been an ethical violation by another AOM member, they attempt to resolve the issue by bringing it to the attention of that individual. (5.4)

In interpreting this standard it’s important to apply a little common sense. This principle does not say that you must always first go to the person you think has done something unethical. There are many cases in which it would be risky to confront the alleged wrongdoer directly. In those cases, it makes little difference whether anything unethical has actually been done. Some people don’t take the accusation lightly, even if they’ve done nothing, or especially if they’ve done nothing wrong. (I’m not sure if that “even … or” should be vice versa. Are people especially offended by the accusation if it’s accurate?) What you will want to do is make sure that your interactions with the other person are documented and/or witnessed by a third party. And this is where a more official process, or the involvement of the ombudsperson, might be helpful. (More on formal processes in another post.)

What the standard does say is that is that you should be able to substantiate your sense that there has been an ethical violation. You have to have a good, detailed sense of what happened and why its a problem. This will make the conversation much more constructive. You should also have a resolution of some kind in mind. If there is something wrong, what would set things right? Don’t accuse someone else, whether in public or in private, of an ethical violation without good reason to do so, and don’t do it just to establish the fact that this person is unethical. Assume that they are ethical and want to do the right thing. Be in a position to explain the wrong and suggest the right.

And remember, always, that conversation takes time. Reaching an understanding is a long, but often rewarding, process.

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Cuba and our professional responsibilities

As a new ethicist blogger, and co-chair of the Academy of Management’s Ethics Education Committee, I wish to echo Thomas’s appreciation for our three pioneers in this endeavor – Lorraine Eden, Kathy Lund Dean, and Paul Vaaler. All accomplishments begin with a vision, and we owe them much appreciation for their innovative idea, substantial contributions, and dedication. These will be large shoes to fill. My objective in this post will be to focus directly on examining how elements of our carefully constructed AOM code of ethics can be better recognized, understood, taught, and practiced.

I just returned from visiting one of the very few countries on the planet more or less disconnected from the internet – Cuba. During my visit I had ample opportunity to meet people of all stripes in diverse locations as well as researchers and academics at the University of Havana. My travels took me to both rural and urban locations, although I studiously avoided the ‘all inclusive’ tourist traps. Instead, my attention focused on trying to understand a culture and an environment with a trajectory substantially different from any of the 116 countries that AOM members represent (Cuba, obviously, is not one of them). My visit was particularly timely given the recent announcement by President Obama, who stated “ 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach”.

The very first item of general principles in the AOM code of ethics addresses responsibility. I think this is an excellent place to begin my reflections of our code, with Cuba presenting an interesting example to speculate regarding what some of my observations may mean to us, as practicing professionals.

In section of our code (1) we are asked to develop trusting relationships, recognize our obligations to society and our communities, manage conflicts of interest, and avoid exploitation or harm. Finally, we are asked to contribute portions of our professional time for little or no compensation or personal advantage.

Cuba is just beginning to authorize private ownership of businesses, although it continues under very strict regulation. One senior professor readily admitted that they had no tools for teaching or preparing their university students for private sector firms – something that, until recently, simply did not exist. In my meetings with them, they were unanimous in requesting assistance in my own field of entrepreneurship, both for research and for developing instructional programs. I found my colleagues to be dedicated professionals, with an unusually keen interest on community and regional development, particularly in rural areas.

A similar knowledge gap existed in the USSR when it opened up in 1989. In a very well documented example, Jeffery Sachs, then at Harvard, recommended ‘shock therapy’, as a way of opening up Russia and other satellite markets. The results were mixed, and critics, including Nobel prizewinner Joe Stiglitz, as well as William Easterly, claim it created unnecessary suffering, advocating a more gradual approach such as that taken by China.

It seems highly probable that in the not too distant future, Cuban scholars will join our AOM community. No doubt, there will be exciting research opportunities as well as substantial financial rewards in store for the pioneer management scholars willing to ‘show them the way’. However, I can’t help but wonder how closely we will adhere to our code’s demand for personal responsibility as academicians. How many of us will contribute ‘for little or no compensation or personal advantage’? How can we, as the world’s largest association of management scholars, provide responsible and ethically sound advice for a situation that 1) exists nowhere else in the world and 2) represents an environment that our copious research experience has not examined, and is largely ignorant of. Will we approach our Cuban colleagues with arrogance or with humility? Will the implementation of our undoubtedly forthcoming advice enhance the life prospects of the average Cuban, or only that of select elites? What role can AOM play in tackling this very important transition, and how can our code of ethics guide us in responsible practices?


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Is Ethical Behavior Disruptive?

In her engagement with Bob Giacalone and Mark Promislo’s AMLE article “Broken When Entering” (2013, vol 12, no 1), Kathy Lund Dean raises an important and somewhat disturbing possibility about ethical behavior. Giacolone and Promislo’s concerns about the “stigma of goodness”, she explains, suggest

… not just that some people act in virtuous ways that others may think are ridiculous as they pursue their own agendas toward wealth and power, but that the virtuous themselves represent a disruption to carefully cultivated bottom-line norms that may be emotionally disconfirming to the extent that virtuous employees must be stopped.

That’s a pretty stark truth to consider, but I have to say that I agree that it’s an issue. Virtues are only meaningful if they are sometimes, and perhaps characteristically, “inconvenient” (in Al Gore’s sense). That means both that virtuous behavior will necessarily constitute an impediment to other personal and organizational projects (“agendas toward wealth and power”) and that virtuous people (at least those who don’t hide their virtue very well) will be perceived as a threat by others. Those others may themselves be virtuous (indeed, they may worry about how their own virtue will undermine their organizational ambitions), but they will nonetheless be afraid that “higher aims” will take precedence over the organization. No matter how “good” you are, it’s a strange situation to be in to recognize that there’s a sense in which it’s counter to your interests.

Obviously, this is itself an organizational issue. We can imagine organizations that are highly vulnerable to ethical behavior. But we can also imagine organizations in which what Kathy calls “the costs of ethical behavior” are already, as it were, “sunk” into the daily organizational routines. This is what we sometimes call “due process”, and, by insisting on it even before an ethical issue has arisen, we create a space for ethical behavior that is already “paid for”, if you will. Being virtuous will then not be a disruption, but business as usual. This is certainly what we’d hope is true of our academic environments.

As always, these are just provisional thoughts. I’d love to hear what readers think.

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Responsibility, Integrity, Respect

I’m going to spend a few posts thinking out loud about the the Academy’s Code of Ethics. I should emphasize that this is not an official statement, but my own personal interpretation. As with everything here at the Ethicist, it’s part of a conversation, not the last word on something. Please let me know what you think. Let’s talk about it.

The word “ethics” derives from the Greek “ethos”, meaning “habitual character and disposition; moral character; habit, custom; an accustomed place.” To me, this emphasizes the rather ordinary nature of ethical behavior. Ethical behavior does not usually require any drama; one just does one’s work properly, decently. This underlying ordinariness of ethical action can be seen in the Code’s “General Principles”, which state that Academy members should comport themselves with responsibility, integrity and respect. While this may seem pretty straightforward, adhering to such principles is, of course, as difficult as, well, being alive. That difficulty is what being a human being in a social milieu is all about.

At the core of the Code’s definition of responsibility lies the idea that our work is carried out within relationships that are based on trust. This, in turn, requires us to define our roles and obligations clearly; after all, we have to know who we can trust in what matters. It also requires us to avoid conflicts of interest, which undermine trust, and even to actively help others without being compensated, which builds trust. To draw on etymology again: being responsible means being “answerable”. Ethical people, we might say, are able to account for their actions.

The Code defines integrity as a concern for “accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness”. Basically, we try to ensure that when when people are talking to us, they don’t come to believe things that are untrue. So we don’t lead them to believe we have qualifications we don’t have. We don’t lead to believe that our rivals are less competent than we know they are. We don’t misrepresent the facts, or obscure our sources of the facts. We don’t, in short, claim to know something we don’t understand or to own something that isn’t ours. The commonsense injunctions against lying and stealing capture this principle nicely.

Finally, the Code invokes the principle of respect–specifically for the rights and dignity of others. And here we can begin to see the difficulty that an ethical life implies. After all, treating one person with respect may come into conflict with your responsibilities to another; certainly, being honest with someone is not always the most respectful thing you can do. The Code sorts the concern with confidentiality under “respect”; clearly this sometimes precludes being entirely truthful, which it sorts under “integrity”. (Even to let on that you know something about someone that you are not allowed to say can be a breach of their privacy.) There’s an important ethical tension here.*

There is a lively discussion these days about the importance of being aware of your “privilege”. Do your words and actions carry extra weight because they channel a power that is rooted in history of injustices, whether of race, or class, or gender, or sexuality? If so, these injustices are, importantly, historical. The list will no doubt have to be amended in the future as we become aware of forms marginalization we haven’t seen before. The value of the Code is that it requires us to face these issues explicitly, and then to work through them as our cultural values, personal morals, and actual responsibilities change throughout our careers. Like I say, it’s as difficult as being alive. Doing it well is correspondingly rewarding.

P.S. In a post from 2013, Kathy Lund Dean put this point forcefully: “Ethical and principled behavior is de-stabilizing to important, instrumental relationships in business, and there are costs to that.” I’ll write more about this in my next post.

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It’s been great, and THE ETHICIST moves on…….

The Ethicist LogoThanks! It’s been great, and THE ETHICIST moves on…….


As Thomas Basboll’s post on THE ETHICIST (February 2, 2015) indicates, it is time for THE ETHICIST to engage in “A Change of Pace,” and take on new bloggers. We are delighted that the Academy of Management is continuing with this important community engagement space, and that Benson Honig and Thomas Basboll are taking on the lead blogging roles. We have a significant sense of ownership over the future of THE ETHICIST and plan to continue to be part of the blog, writing from time to time ourselves, as the blog moves ahead with new authors, editors and topics.

As we look back on the last several years since the inception of THE ETHICIST, it’s interesting to see how blogging itself has evolved. Much of the advice of best blogging practices reinforces what Thomas will change about THE ETHICIST, including shorter and more frequent posts, and expanding the scope of the discussions.  The international diplomacy-building organization DiploFoundation recommends using the “E.K.G.” approach for blogging: Engage with other blogs and your own readers, Keep the material fresh and exciting, and Give people a reason to return. The blog hosting site HubSpot says readers want to see the blogger’s personality come out, and that readers come back to blogs that treat topics in unusual and cross-disciplinary ways. All of this advice mirrors plans for THE ETHICIST and we are looking forward to seeing energetic treatment of ethical issues.

The common advice about blogging — no matter whose advice one takes — revolves around content: compelling, thoughtful and timely content is the make-or-break blog factor. And in this respect, we are confident that THE ETHICIST will broaden its community reach with Thomas and Benson at the helm. There is so much to share about how the Academy is integrating ethical practice into meetings and member resources, and how we as an academic community are grappling with significant ethical questions. All five of us are members of the Ethics Education Committee; we have facilitated lively discussions throughout the Academy in multiple ways and venues: at doctoral consortia, via webinars, through YouTube video discussions, and in myriad annual meeting sessions. We have found our fellow Academy members, particularly doctoral students, to be enormously interested in how to do the right thing, and how to resolve conflicts in ethics in ways that allow them to flourish.

Thank you to everyone who has supported THE ETHICIST so far. We gratefully acknowledge in particular the help of Terese Loncar; our advisory panels for research, teaching and professional life;  members of the Ethics Education Committee and the Board of Governors of the Academy of Management; and our home departments. We look forward to the great new conversations and connections to be made ahead.

Lorraine, Kathy & Paul

Lorraine Eden

Lorraine Eden

Kathy Lund Dean

Kathy Lund Dean

Paul Vaaler

Paul Vaaler


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A Change of Pace

At the Academy Meeting in Philadelphia this summer the Ethics Education Committee discussed, among other things, a new direction for this blog. Benson and I have been talking about our approach behind the scenes and we’re now ready to begin implementing the changes, so I thought I ‘d take a few moments to explain what we are going to try to do.

First, however, I’d like to thank Lorraine Eden, Kathy Lund Dean, and Paul Vaaler for the great work they’ve done over the past few years, providing thoughtful and informative content about ethical issues to the readers of the blog. We’re building on a solid foundation now, thanks to their efforts, and we will no doubt be dipping into the archives every now then for inspiration for upcoming posts. A blog is ideally the site of an ongoing conversation, and we’re very aware that we’re walking into a room that is already filled with vibrant dialogue. Don’t be surprised to see a guest post by one of them every now and then in the months and years to come. We’ll be drawing on all the expertise we have access to.

Going forward, our plan is to post at least once a week (and at most once a day) on a broad range of issues grounded in the Academy of Management Code of Ethics. As most everyone is aware, ethics is not the domain of easy questions, where a clear right and clear wrong can be straightforwardly determined. Rather, there will always be a need to interpret the Code, and what we will be offering here are attempts at such interpretations. In the end, all Academy members will face their own more or less unique ethical dilemmas, and the difficulty in each case will be one of applying the Code’s general principles and standards to their specific circumstances. We can’t make a determination for you, but we can model ethical reasoning by thinking through particular cases in an open and frank manner.

In this, my first, post, then, I’ll show what this means by beginning with a sentences from the Code’s preamble:

AOM members respect and protect civil and human rights and the central importance of freedom of inquiry and expression in research, teaching, and publication.

It’s an important sentence because it is rooted in the Academy’s mission as a organization of scholars. While its members are also often professionals, their ethical orientation is rooted in their identity as researchers and teachers. What this means in practice is that the value of “freedom of inquiry and expression” occupies a central place in our thinking about right and wrong behavior. This is not a trivial issue; it does not apply in all fields. Intelligence professionals, lawyers and engineers, for example, may value discretion, confidentiality and secrecy above freedom of inquiry. This does not make them unethical, and AOM members do of course keep their promises of confidentiality when they give them. The point is simply that a dilemma may arise for them when they do so, and the specific choices within that dilemma are shaped by the high value that a scholar places on the search for the truth. A scholar is uncomfortable–ethically uncomfortable–with any arrangement that restricts his or her freedom of inquiry and expression. As in all things, this is not an absolute principle, but it is an important concern.

I said earlier that we’re going to endeavor to be open and frank here at the Ethicist. The sentence I quoted from the preamble is my attempt to anchor that ambition in the Code, which it is the mandate of the Ethics Education Committee to disseminate. And this will be how we proceed from week to week. (On Friday I’ll look at our General Principles.) The idea is to use the blog to reflect on the best way to present the issues that the Code addresses. And this means that the blog will also be a site for the development of our contribution to the Professional Development Workshops at the Academy’s meetings. Not only will you be able to get a good sense of what the committee is up to, you’ll be able to influence our thinking.

For that reason the comments are open. We will be moderating them quite closely, but we have not yet developed a specific commenting policy. Basic principles of respect and decency, of course, apply. But we have a sense that the readers of a blog called the Ethicist will be reasonable people. One decision that we have made is not to let this blog become a place to discuss cases that are not already in the public domain. Like any blog, we will no doubt find much material in the news of the day. But we will confine ourselves to commenting on the news, not breaking it. That goes also for the comments.

Finally, a note on the length of the posts. We’ll be posting more often than has been the case in the past, but they will be significantly shorter.  I’ve just hit 830 words, for example, which is right in the ball park of the length of the posts we’re shooting for. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 words. So, with that promise of keeping it brief, I’ll stop. More on Friday.

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Ethics in the Academy of Management

Subject:  Twenty Questions: Ethical Research Dilemmas for PhD Students (PhD Students and Research Ethics, Part A)


Date:  October 16, 2014

KEY INSIGHT:  The PhD timeline, from admission through graduation, is a unique period in a scholar’s life. It is a time when students are apprentices, learning from faculty mentors how to become researchers and academics.  In the four to six years of a typical doctoral program, students engage in all stages of research from problem identification, literature reviews and theory development, through data collection and analysis, to writing, presenting and publishing their work.  At each stage, doctoral students face ethical research dilemmas, similar to those faced by faculty members, but with unique aspects that come from being doctoral students. This blog post is the first of two pieces examining research ethical dilemmas involving PhD students.  Part A consists of 20 research dilemmas that are meant to facilitate classroom or small group discussions among doctoral students and faculty about research ethics. Part B explores the unique aspects of doctoral students in the research process, implications for research misconduct, and possible coping mechanisms. My co-author Kevin McSweeney, a first year doctoral student in Management at Texas A&M University, and I welcome your comments.


Each of the cases below may or may not have an ethical dilemma facing the PhD student. The cases are designed to encourage discussion on different topics that face PhD students in their research activities. We recommend the following questions to start the discussion:

  •  Is there an ethical dilemma here? If yes, what is it and why?
  • What are the available options facing the PhD student?
  • What ethical course of action do you recommend and why?  


1.  Aidan decided to go back to school for his PhD in Management and had talked with the doctoral program director at University X several times by telephone. The program director assured Aidan that he would be able to work with renowned Professor Macro if Aidan chose to do his doctoral studies at University X. Aidan’s research interests aligned perfectly with Professor Macro’s research. Aidan was also convinced he would develop excellent research skills working under Professor Macro’s direction and might therefore have some publications before graduation. Aidan’s official visit to the university as well as his interactions with the program director during the visit went well and further strengthened his views. However, Professor Macro was out of town during Aidan’s visit so they did not meet. Nevertheless, the program director assured Aidan that Professor Macro loved to work with doctoral students. Aidan, taking into consideration the professor’s reputation in the field and the program director’s opinion that Aidan would be able to work with Professor Macro, accepted the offer to attend University X. After Aidan’s arrival, however, the situation turned out to be quite different. He discovered that Professor Macro was going on sabbatical leave for a year and that his passion for working with doctoral students had lessened. It became quite evident that the program director had not consulted with Professor Macro about his willingness or ability to work with incoming doctoral students. Aidan feels that he has been misled.


Intellectual Property Rights

2. Nicolas writes a term paper for his PhD seminar and presents it in class. Barbara, another PhD student in the class, is assigned to critique the term paper. Nicolas does not get a very good grade on the term paper and, after the class is over, he decides the term paper needs too much work to bring the paper up to publishable quality so he puts the paper on the “backburner.” Barbara, however, really likes this topic and writes her own paper, which she submits to the annual Academy of Management conference. Barbara’s paper is accepted for presentation at the meetings. Nicolas sees Barbara’s paper on the AOM conference program and realizes that her paper is on the same topic as his term paper. He accuses her of stealing his term paper.


3. Two PhD students, James and Willem, are office mates. Each of them is working on a single-authored paper and they occasionally discuss their research ideas. They both know it is very important for their job search to have multiple papers on their CVs. James and Willem realize that, if they each added the other as a co-author, they would generate mutual benefits for each other: doubling their chances of a publication and beefing up their resumes when they enter the job market. They agree to go ahead and add each other has a co-author to the other’s papers.

4. Xiao is assigned as a research assistant to Professor Micro and spends the semester gathering and analyzing data for one of Professor Micro’s projects. Kevin is doing the same thing for Professor Macro. At the end of the semester, Professor Micro invites Xiao to be a co-author on a paper that will be based on their joint research; Professor Macro does not invite Kevin to be a co-author on a paper that will be based on their joint research. Xiao and Kevin discover the different treatment when they get together to discuss their research assignments this semester.

Order of Authors 

5.  Nadia and Christof are third year PhD students who will be on the job market next year. Nadia is working a joint research project with Professor X; Christof is doing the same with Professor Y. One day, Nadia and Christof are discussing their current research projects. Nadia tells Christof how excited she is to receive third authorship on the paper she is working on with Professor X. Christof mentions that he will be the first author on a paper he is working on with Professor Y. Nadia asks Christof how they determined the order of authorship. Christof admits to Nadia that Professor Y did most of the work on the paper, but Christof would be on the job market shortly so Professor Y agreed to give Christof first authorship. Nadia is perplexed. She tells Christof that Professor X, a foreign-born professor from a power-respecting culture, believes that authorship should be determined by seniority. Professor X was therefore unequivocal in assigning authorship based on seniority. Since Nadia had the least seniority on the project, she was automatically the last author regardless of her contribution. Christof informs Nadia that other professors in their department practice the same authorship philosophy as Professor Y, not Professor X.

6. Alain works with Bianca and Carlos, under the direction of Professor X, on a research paper. Alain is in his first year; Bianca and Carlos are both in their fourth year. The terms of authorship are solidified at the beginning of the project as follows (Professor X-Bianca-Carlos-Alain). Alain feels that the authorship agreement was fair and is excited to contribute to a project that has a high likelihood of being published. As the project progresses, Alain finds himself contributing more to the project than either Bianca or Carlos. The paper goes through several rounds of reviews, in which Alain does more work than either Bianca or Carlos. The paper finally gets accepted at a top journal, with the original authorship agreement, despite the incongruence in contributions made by the three PhD students. Alain does not want to upset too many people so he asks Denise, a fellow PhD student, for her opinion on the topic. Denise tells Alain that Professor X tends to give authorship order preference, regardless of actual contribution, to his more senior PhD students who will be entering the job market.

7.  Andrew, Barbara and Cameron are co-researchers on a project. All three are PhD students: Andrew and Cameron are in their second year; Barbara is on the job market. When they started this project, they agreed that the order of authors would be alphabetical because they each were contributing equally to the project. Now the paper is finished and they are getting ready to submit it to a journal. Barbara approaches Andrew and Cameron to ask if they could change the order of authors so that she can be first author. Barbara argues that she is on the job market and so needs the publication more than they do. Barbara promises to return the favor by being third author on the next two papers coming out of their work together.

Errors and Omissions

8.  Justin and Kara are working with Professor X on a joint paper. They are on a tight deadline; submission for the annual Academy of Management meetings is only two weeks away. Justin is tasked to collect some missing data for their empirical work. He is also in the middle of exams and so quickly gathers the data without checking the numbers. Kara discovers that the data are flawed, but realizes that if she brings this to the attention of Professor X they will likely miss the window for submitting the paper to the AOM meetings.

9. Isabella is a research assistant for Professor X on a project that extends work Professor X had already published in a top-tier journal. She is very excited to be included as a co-author on the paper Professor X is writing based on the research they have been doing. When Professor X invites her to read and comment on the first draft of the paper, she realizes that multiple paragraphs in the paper are identical to those in the earlier publication.


10.  Lukas, while in the PhD program at University X, is working on a good paper that he likes very much. He wants to give the paper at a conference where he can get some good feedback on the paper prior to submitting it for publication in a journal. Lukas also likes to travel and sees that there are conferences coming up in Vancouver, San Diego and Miami, places where he has not visited and would like to visit. His department has the funds to send PhD students to these conferences. Lukas decides to submit the same paper to all three conferences, and he is delighted when the paper is accepted for presentation at all three venues.

11.  Rebecca is the lead author on a paper with two other PhD students Tomas and Jean Luis. Rebecca submits their co-authored paper for presentation at the annual Academy of Management meetings, but does not inform her co-authors, believing that they had a joint understanding that she would submit the paper to the AOM meetings. Jean Luis, as part of his work on other three research teams, had already agreed to submit the three papers to the AOM meetings; Jean Luis, therefore, was in violation of the Rule of Three that limited submissions by any one author to three papers. Jean Luis tells Rebecca that he is violating the Rule of Three. Rebecca suggests that she take Jean Luis’s name off their joint AOM submission now. If the paper is accepted and they do present it at the meetings, they will put Jean Luis’s name back on the paper and slide presentation; he can attend the session and present too. They will tell everyone in the session that Jean Luis is a co-author.



12.  Kayla has been working for a year, building a dataset for her dissertation. This dataset extends the original dataset provided by her dissertation chair by adding new variables and years. Kayla’s dissertation chair has several publications out of the original dataset. Kayla discovers, to her horror, that there is a major error in the variables constructed in the dataset and that the error is large enough to potentially invalidate the papers that her chair has already published. Kayla does not know whether (1) she should fix the error in her own dataset, (2) tell her chair about the problem and (3) whether to inform the journals where the papers were published that they are fundamentally flawed.

13.  Ashley has spent a year developing her dissertation dataset and is very proud of the work she has done. She believes the dataset will enable her to answer several unanswered questions in her field of study. She is getting close to defending her dissertation and her chair has asked for her to share her dataset with him. This particular professor has a reputation for not including PhD students as co-authors on his research projects. Ashley is worried that the professor may use her dataset, without including her as a co-author.


14.  Jordan’s dissertation chair is an internationally famous scholar, traveling so much that she is seldom available to meet with Jordan. As a result, Jordan had basically written his dissertation by himself, with little to no help from his chair. When Jordan submits the dissertation to his chair, she tells Jordan that he must agree to put her name on all publications coming out of his dissertation or she will not sign off on the dissertation.

15. Patrice is working in his office on polishing up his dissertation, which will be defended next week. His chair comes into Patrice’s office, very excited, and tells Patrice that she has secured publication of his dissertation with a well-known scholarly press. The only string attached is that the book must have Patrice’s chair as a co-author and the chair must be the first author on the book.


16.  Javier’s dissertation at a US university is well underway with one main chapter and two supporting chapters. Javier receives an invitation from a former undergraduate professor in Mexico inviting him to publish a chapter out of his dissertation in the professor’s edited book. Javier will have a quick publication on his resume, making him more attractive on the job market. Javier will also have done a favor to his former professor who wrote a strong letter that helped Javier get accepted into this PhD program. Since the book will be published in Spanish, there is little chance that Javier’s chapter will be read by non-Spanish speaking scholars. Therefore, Javier does not think publishing his dissertation chapter in this edited book will create a problem for him submitting the chapter for publication in a scholarly journal afterwards.

17. Karolina’s dissertation consists of three papers, which is the norm at her university. While she is writing her dissertation, Karolina and a faculty member submit one of her chapters to a journal and the paper is accepted for publication as a co-authored article before Karolina has defended her dissertation. The chair of Karolina’s dissertation committee discovers that one of her dissertation chapters has been co-written with another faculty member, and the chair refuses to accept the chapter as part of her dissertation. Karolina’s chair tells her that all three chapters must be sole authored and none published prior to her defense; Karolina must therefore write another chapter.


18.  Stefanie’s dissertation chair offers Stefanie the opportunity to use the private dataset that he had hand collected for his own research. Stefanie’s chair requests, in return for use of the dataset, that he be included as a co-author on all publications by Stefanie that uses this dataset. Stefanie and her chair discuss this issue, and she agrees verbally to do this. Stefanie and her chair write several papers together. Ten years later, Stefanie writes and publishes a single-authored paper that uses the original dataset provided by her chair. Stefanie justifies the single-authored paper on the grounds that the theory development is hers and that “enough is enough”; 10 years of joint work is long enough to pay for the use of the original dataset. Stefanie’s chair is furious, arguing that they had a verbal agreement that all published work coming out of the original database should be joint authored.

19.  Fletcher and two other PhD students write an empirical paper investigating the impact of a particular set of variables on firm performance. In their paper, a second group of variables are treated as controls in the model. Fletcher graduates and takes a position at a foreign university. Once he is settled in, Fletcher starts a second project with colleagues in his new department. In this paper, the controls from the first paper are now independent variables, and the independent variables from the first paper are now controls. The two projects proceed independently, with only Fletcher aware of both projects. Both papers are submitted about the same time to different journals and, by chance, have a common reviewer. The reviewer tells both journal editors about the other paper and recommends that both papers should be rejected on the grounds they are too similar to one another.

20.  Lorraine is carving her dissertation into papers for submission to journals where she hopes they will be published. She prepares two papers and submits them about the same time to two journals, making no reference in either submission to the other paper. Both papers use the same dataset and share most of the same variables; however, the theoretical arguments and hypotheses are different. Lorraine is pleased when the first paper receives a positive revise-and-resubmit decision from Journal A, but disappointed when the second paper is rejected after review at Journal B. Lorraine makes minor modifications to the second paper based on the reviewers’ comments and submits the revised paper to Journal A, reasoning that the positive success that the first paper has received might be repeated with the second paper.  



These ethical scenarios were developed by the authors to illustrate the various types of ethical dilemmas that can face doctoral students in their research activities. All individuals appearing in these cases are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or to actual events or incidents is purely coincidental.

We gratefully acknowledge helpful comments by Chi Anyansi-Archibong, Jean Bartunek, Anthony Cannizzaro, Kathy Lund Dean, Michael Hitt, Benson Honig, Susan Jackson, Paul Sears, Laszlo Tihanyi,  Anne Tsui, Erik van Raaij and Stuart Youngblood on earlier versions of this post.



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Ethics Education Committee Activities at AOM 2014

Benson Honig, Chair of the Ethics Education Committee reports that five EEC oublic events are scheduled for AOM 2014 in Philly: 1. Open Forum: Ethics Education in AOM (session #441) Meeting (AAA) Saturday, Aug 2 2014 4:00PM – 5:30PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 301 2. Pre-Program not in calendar, requires RSVP: A number of people in the scholarly leadership community have been, to varying degrees, absorbed in retraction processes over the past several months. Much of the expended energy has centered largely at The Leadership Quarterly. Ethics Education: Retraction Discussion Submission: 19208 | Sponsor(s): (AAA) Scheduled: Saturday, Aug 2 2014 5:30PM – 7:00PM at Pennsylvania Convention Center in Room 111 A Three ethics based programs or presentations at AOM conference in 2014, as follows: 3. Ethics in Management Research: Collusion, Competition, or Collaboration? Program Session #: 84 | Submission: 18793 • | Sponsor(s): (AAA), 4. The Power of Pilfered Words: Actions are Stronger than Words in Creating Ethical Research Program Session #: 725 | Submission: 17022 | Sponsor(s): (AAT) 5. Translating the Results of Scholarship into Actions by Practitioners From Scholarship to Action Program Session #: 10734 | Submission: 10734 | Sponsor(s): (PTC, MED, MC, OB, ODC, OCIS)

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Part 2 of ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching: Now what?

Key Insight:

In my column last month, I wrote about some of the ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching (SET), using Quinn’s competing values model. Among my top concerns are serious and documented validity issues with SET instruments, as well as how external stakeholders may use SET data as a big stick to weed out faculty who offer unpopular or controversial viewpoints, or who may be judged as ineffective based on this single (mostly invalid) instrument. In this column, I want to talk more about the “now what?” aspect of SETs.

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In Memoriam: John E. Fleming, PhD

Long before the Ethicist Blog and the Ethics of Research and Publishing Video Series, the Academy’s voice of ethics was embodied in John E. Fleming, Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California.  John was a long-time member of the AOM Ethics Committee and a regular contributor to the Academy of Management Newsletter. John contributed articles about ethics that translated ethics experiences in academe to include vignettes on research, professional life and teaching, much like the topical areas found on the Ethicist Blog.  He recognized that being able to articulate our core shared professional values further builds our ethical culture.  Sadly, John Fleming passed away on February 2, 2014 and while he leaves behind his loving family and many colleagues and friends, his words and contributions about ethics will remain in the Academy’s memory.  You can read John’s full obituary in the March 2014 edition of AcadeMY News.

In honor of John Fleming’s memory, we’d like to share one of his later contributions to the Ethics Column.


By John E. Fleming, Emeritus Professor, University of Southern California; Member of the AOM Ethics Committee  (Originally published October 2006 AOM Newsletter)

This column deals with the Introduction, the Preamble, and both the General and Professional Principles in the first part of the Academy’s revised Code of Ethics.  I suspect that you are finding in your reading of the Code that it is a very complete professional document that requires diligent study and thoughtful application.  But there are also a number of important surprises along the way.

The most interesting thing that I have found in my study of this first part of the code is the emphasis that it places on the need for the very highest levels of professional ethics.  If we think of ethics as dealing with relationships between people, the Code requires that such relationships exist at the highest ethical level.  On the first page of the Code in the Introduction this is stated very clearly: “The Preamble, General Principles, and Professional Principles set forth aspirational goals to guide AOM members toward the highest ideals of research, teaching  practice, and service.”

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