What are we professors to do? Are we better than VW?

As members of the Academy, we each hold responsibility in upholding our professional ethics. Once the ‘egg is broken’, it will be very hard to re-establish public confidence. VW, for instance, will undoubtedly have a long road in convincing the public that their organization acts in an ethically responsible way. While the public seemed to quickly forgive GM for their ignoring a faulty ignition problem, they are less willing to forgive systemic premeditated corruption. We have seen the flashback from the American Psychological Association regarding members advising how best to conduct torture having an impact on their community. In short, many of these professional ethical issues have a way of impacting our field for the long run.

In the last posting, Greg Stephens AOM’s onbudperson, outlined a range of issues they examine, with instructions regarding how to proceed should you have a professional ethics dilemma. They do a fantastic job, often behind the scenes, and we should be very appreciative of their hard work.

Of course, these issues are primarily only of relevance to things that happen in and around the Academy of Management. If you observe something at another conference, or at a non AOM sponsored journal, well, there may be few if any options for you to pursue.

A  AOM recent censure ruling, the first I ever recall seeing, included the sanctioning of an academy member. Professor Andreas Hinterhuber had submitted a previously published paper for consideration at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The ruling was as follows:

The final sanctions include disqualification from participation in Academy of Management activities (including but not limited to submission to the conference, participation on the conference program, serving the Academy or any of its Divisions or Interest Groups in an elected or appointed role, or submission to any of the Academy of Management journals) for a period of three (3) years, public notice of the violation through publication in the AcadeMY News; formal notification to the journal where the work was previously published, and ethics counseling by the Ombuds Committee.

Seeing a public and formal sanction is a good professional start, and I applaud our organization for taking the trouble to demonstrate that we have professional limits that should be honored. However, what if  Professor Andreas Hinterhuber were found to have done the same thing at, say, EGOS, or BAM? Of what about someone who submits a paper simultaneously to two different journals for review? Would the consequences be the same? Likely not.

It would seem to me that we would all benefit from a larger professional ‘tent’ whereby public notice of violations and censure were more systematically discussed. I find it very odd that, out of 20,000 members, it is so rare for us to have a public censure (this is the first I am aware of – although there may have been other non-public consequences). Every year I hear of multiple cases of doctors and lawyers getting disbarred.  The odds are presumably the same for our profession, but the consequences far less, and the frequency of public humiliation quite rare. This would only provide incentives to engage in unprofessional conduct.  I am not suggesting we begin a yellow journalistic finger pointing exercise. Only that given the rise in competition, and the important stakes involved in our profession, we should collectively think about professional monitoring, public dialog, and the provision of clear ethical guidelines in our doctoral and professional career development.

Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.

When should you contact an AOM Ombuds?

Imagine . . .

A co-author on a paper submitted to an Academy of Management Conference is telling others that you didn’t really contribute much to the paper, and that your name was included as a “courtesy.” You are upset, and don’t know why she would do this, but you want it to stop.

You have just learned that a person you believe to have been a reviewer on a paper you submitted to an Academy journal has published a paper that draws largely on ideas you first put forth in your paper, and has claimed those ideas as his own. The journal editor doesn’t seem especially interested in taking action.

You have just discovered instances of what you believe to be unauthorized/unattributed plagiarism of your previous work in a paper submitted to an Academy journal. You are angry, and want the other person to withdraw his paper and to promise to never submit it to any other journal or conference.

You have been accused of plagiarism, and have no idea where the other person is coming from…to you, it seems that you simply (and legitimately) built on past work. As a doctoral candidate, you are very worried about the impact this might have on your job prospects, and you don’t know where to begin to resolve the issue.

If you’ve experienced anything similar to these incidences, you’d probably like some assistance. Perhaps an Ombuds can help! It’s a good time to contact an AOM Ombudsperson when:

  • You do not know how to begin the process of resolving your conflict.
  • You experience an issue or concern that you are not able to resolve through direct communication with the other person.
  • You are confused or at your wits end about options for dealing with the issue.
  • When you believe you have been treated unfairly or unethically by another person while engaged in work with, through, or for an Academy journal or conference.
  • When you think it might help to get the perspective of a neutral third party, have a neutral sounding board, or work with someone to identify options or ideas you may not have considered.

Ombuds are independent, impartial and provide a free service for AOM members involved in conflicts or with ethics complaints regarding work involving AOM journals or conferences. We adhere to the standards of the International Ombudsman Association, whose principles are informality, confidentiality, neutrality/impartiality, and independence (future blogs will expand on each of these principles). Ombuds provide a listening ear, assist with options generation, and offer advice regarding how to handle your dispute. They will work to help you clarify what you can do or how you can act to resolve the conflict, or to improve relationships. An Ombuds can help you understand your own rights and options with regards to complaints you might have that involve AOM research outlets or other functions and activities.

To help AOM members, the Ombuds may draw upon the following approaches, as needed:

  • Mediating disputes among AOM members concerning alleged ethics violations
  • Providing informal counseling (“active listening”) and referrals to individuals on ethics issues
  • Educating individuals about the AOM Code of Ethics, Ethical Standards and the Policies and Procedures
  • Receiving and processing requests for interpretations of the Code
  • Forwarding anonymous complaints requiring investigation to the Past President for possible action (see Operating Procedures & Anonymity)

The Ombuds makes no decisions for the parties nor judgments on the merits of a complaint. We will work to assist the parties in resolving their disputes informally, but if necessary may recommend further formal action by the Ethics Adjudication Committee (EAC). If that proves necessary, the Ombuds will explain the AOM process for filing complaints and provide forms and policy information that may be helpful in moving forward should the individual choose to file a formal complaint. With regard to inquiries and complaints involving non-members, the Ombuds guides the non-member and is available for counseling if needed.

The AOM’s Code of Ethics require AOM members hold themselves accountable to a high ethical standard. Unfortunately, occasionally issues arise that would benefit from further conversation. Using the AOM Ombud serves as an initial and informal attempt to resolve such issues. Using Ombuds services does not take away the option of moving to a formal disciplinary or dispute resolution process. For more information about AOM Ombuds services, please see the AOM Policies and Procedures for Handling Ethical Complaints.

Please contact us (Ombuds@aom.org) if you believe we can help.

Invitation to Publish Ethics Teaching Tips


The Academy of Management Ethics Education Committee (EEC) focuses primarily on “educating” AOM members about how to understand our Code of Ethics and use ethical practices in our work as researchers, practitioners, and teachers. When we are in instructional roles, we have a responsibility to develop the next generation in the management field—hopefully with some sense of ethical ways to practice their chosen professions. We may teach courses devoted to business ethics, but more likely, we may want to create opportunities to incorporate a focus on ethics in courses on other leadership and management topic.

To encourage an exchange of ideas and approaches, the EEC is partnering with the Business Ethics Education Initiative at Kansas State University to publish novel tips for teaching ethics in virtual and face-to-face classrooms.  Presently, seven such tips are published on the K-State Initiative website in the section called “Ethics Education,” and soon these tips will be published here on The Ethicist as well.

The AOM Ethics Education Committee invites Academy members to submit your Teaching Tips by sending an abstract of 50 to 100 words that describes your novel method for teaching ethics, along with a link to the fuller description. Please send tips to ethics[at]vision2lead.com. For format guidance, see the examples of Teaching Tips published at the Kansas State University site in the section called “Ethics Education” at this link. Select Teaching Tips will be published here and on the K-State Ethics Education Initiative site.

See a popular example from Diane Swanson, Professor of Management at Kansas State University and Ethics Education Committee member. She uses three Star Trek characters to introduce students to ethics in decision making and the importance of moral courage. Students read her short essay “To Go Boldly! Trekking for Moral Courage” as a point of departure for exploring these topics in class.

We hope by sharing our approaches online throughout the year and at the annual conference, we can create a worthwhile forum where members can interact regarding their roles as ethical instructors who practice what they teach.




Predatory journals, and the arrogance of peer review

Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately, providing me with an excuse for taking a short holiday from  blogging in the ethicist.

I recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where I was involved in running a track for a management conference for the Africa Academy of Management. The conference was a wonderful success, and it was great seeing so many management scholars from all over the world converging on Africa.

Of course, with any international scholarly conference, there are significant cultural norms, attitudes, and differences that we carry with us to our meetings. I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss just one of them: the perennial elephant in the room: publication, and in particular, predatory publication.

Surprisingly, while I was attending the conference, our Assoc. dean back home in Canada circulated a tract on the hazards of predatory journals. In particular, the email circulated informing the faculty of Beall’s list of predatory publishers.  The list provides perhaps a dozen journal titles specifically tailored toward management scholars. It also includes so called “hijacked journals” which emulate the name or acronym of other famous journals, presumably to confuse readers, as well as misleading metrics, whereby journals publish misleading impact factors (note: inflating  impact factor by journal self plagiarism is NOT considered a misleading practice!). So, for example, there are two ‘South African Journal of Business Management” publishers, presumably a legitimate one, and a ‘hacked’ one. Information Systems Management must contend with ‘Journal of Information System Management’, etc.. etc…

What surprised me most about our Canadian encounters is the reactions of some of my colleagues. An initial request was made to indicate that journals from this list would not be considered for hiring, tenure or promotion. This seemed like a reasonable request. Surprisingly, there was considerable debate, which ranged from “who created this list, anyway, it seems subjective” to “We’ve always been able to distinguish quality in the past, we should just continue as we have always done”.

While this was going on in the home front, my African colleagues were telling me stories of their own.  Publication is now de-rigueur for academic hiring and promotion at most African universities, even though they have barely established a research culture of their own. Incentives can vary widely, but many institutions pay bonuses for publications, and faculty are often offered opportunities to publish in little known journals for a ‘publication fee’ that can be considerable. During our ‘how to publish’ seminars, faculty repeatedly asked us how to distinguish between these predatory journals and the ‘other’ ones. Young scholars proudly shared how they had published six or seven articles in two years (in what journals, one might ask?). Doctoral students asked how to deal with advisers that insist on having their names on publications, despite them having absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of the research in question. In short, they had little information regarding the full range of scholarship, their own institutions rarely subscribed to the better journals, and they were often in a position of working in the dark regarding quality and scholarly norms.

So, coming full circle, it seems we have a problem of global proportions, one that might impact weaker institutions somewhat more (those without the governing systems to adequately ‘sniff out’ the corruption), but one that nevertheless impacts all of our work.

Of course, I can’t help but reflect the culture I live in – North America (I spend a lot of time in Europe as well…). So many of us would like to thumb our noses at our less fortunate colleagues and explain to them, with our own self importance, how our standards of publications reign supreme, and are only to emulated. To those of you, I’d like to refer to to Andrew Gelman’s recent posting that points out some serious weaknesses of our peer review system, where he critiques ‘power pose’ research.  Gelman points out that If you want to really review a paper, you need peer reviewers who can tell you if you’re missing something within the literature—and you need outside reviewers who can rescue you from groupthink”….” peer-review doesn’t get you much. The peers of the power-pose researchers are . . . other power-pose researchers. Or researchers on embodied cognition, or on other debatable claims in experimental psychology. Or maybe other scientists who don’t work in this area but have heard good things about it and want to be supportive of this work.”

So, let’s come full circle for a moment. We are in an international arena. Institutional norms are diffusing such that everyone wants to get into the same ‘game’. However, the rules of the game are subtle, often manipulated, rarely challenged, and heavily biased in favor of insiders over outsiders. No doubt, clarity would help everyone involved. How can we overcome our own blind spots? How can we validate and authenticate the publication process? What kind of measures might we employ to do so?

I disagree with my colleagues who argue ‘it worked in the past, we can continue doing it in the future’. First, I’m not certain how effective we were in the past. There may be numerous failings hidden inside our collective closets, some of which may come to light in the form of future retractions. Second, I’m not so certain we’ve made enormous progress in our own field of study. And finally, and most importantly, new mechanisms for corruption, cheating, and exploiting seem to pop up each and every day.

Which brings me to the central question I’ve been pondering: What can we do, as a community, to improve the quality of our work, while sifting out potential corrupt forces?




The Meaning of Ethics

We’re long overdue here at the Ethicist to get back into the swing of things! Obviously, we’re now looking forward to the annual meeting in Anaheim, which has an especially fortuitous theme for the Ethics Education Committee. As this year’s program chair, Mary Ann Glynn, points out, meaning and ethics are closely related issues for organizations:

Recently, there have been highly publicized corporate scandals, Wall Street corruption, and failures of government to meet the needs of its citizens, with a resulting rise in public distrust and questioning of organizations’ reasons for being.  We often take as given that an organization’s purpose to produce economic value; and, although economic value can often add to social value, sometimes it does not.  This disjuncture raises the question of meaningfulness.

Avoiding scandal and fostering trust is arguably the very meaning of ethics. And if it is true, as I think it is, that communities are essentially constituted by their ethics (show me your ethics and I’ll tell you a great deal about what kind of community you’ve got) then there’s no doubt that frequent scandals and and deepening mistrust would raise fundamental questions about an organization’s “reason for being”. What’s going on? What’s it all about? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Important issues to think about.

Nor is the academy (and even the Academy) able to keep itself entirely aloof from these questions. In the world of research, there have also been scandals and mistrust, and we need to face these issues squarely in our own research practice and communities. That’s where the Ethicist and the Ethics Education Committee would like to be of help.

We’re currently reaching out the AOM divisions to offer our help in developing and implementing ethics modules in their PDW’s and consortia sessions. It is our view that ethics is best approached as a conversation, not a merely a code of conduct. While we have the Code to guide us, the  really interesting work happens in a discussion of the details. And that conversation always has to be anchored in the actual practices that constitute the wide variety of research communities with the Academy of Management. Accordingly, our first responsibility as ethics educators is to listen and learn from members about the situations they face.

This post, then, is an invitation to engage in conversation. Feel free to leave comments below about the sorts of issues you think need to be faced, either by your own discipline or by the management field in general. Also, I am coordinating our consortia contributions this year, so if you are leading a consortium session for your division and would like include the EEC, either in your presentation or in your planning, please contact me by mail so we can work out the details.