Confidential

By Nancy Day, AOM Ombuds

Our jobs as faculty can be among the most satisfying – at least in terms of Hackman and Oldham’s (1975) Job Characteristics Model. We use a lot of different skills, often find our work meaningful, and we have a great deal of autonomy. BUT – our jobs can also be among the most stressful: publication pressures, student demands, and difficulties working with colleagues, both other faculty and administrators.

As members of the Academy of Management, you are fortunate to have resources to help you navigate conflicts and related issues. The AOM Ethics Ombuds Committee is composed of three members, all of whom are trained ombudspersons, who will try to understand your story, clarify your goals, help generate options that may resolve the issue, and assist you in planning your next steps.

As member of the International Ombudsman Association, we adhere to four Standards of Practice: Informality, neutrality/impartiality, independence, and confidentiality. In our last contribution to the Ethicist Blog, Ombuds Committee member Mary Sue Love covered neutrality and impartiality. Today, I’d like to describe confidentiality.

Confidentiality means we won’t divulge what you tell us to anyone, unless you give us permission to do so. Confidentiality is critical so that our “visitors” (the folks we’re trying to help) feel they can be candid and complete in telling their stories. Like all organizational Ombuds, we keep no records, so there’s nothing that will come up in any legal discovery process, should that occur. The only people who will know about your consultation with AOM Ombuds are you and us, unless you choose to tell someone else. Our confidentiality standard requires we neither confirm nor deny who’s consulted with us.

Confidentiality is critical so we can effectively help Ombuds visitors. Exceptions to it are very limited: If we believe there is “imminent risk of serious harm” to an individual or the Academy, we are obligated to report that to the appropriate person.

As Ombuds, our goal is that by telling us your story, you’ll have both a clearer understanding of the situation and some ideas about how to move forward in a positive direction. In our next few blog posts, we’ll explain the other Standards of Practice, independence and informality.

So if you want an avenue to confidentially try to resolve Academy-related issues, please contact us at ombuds@aom.org. You can find more information on the Academy’s Ethics webpage: www.AOM.org/ethics.

Giving Voice to Values in the Classroom

The news of the day filters into our classrooms. Students think about how they can reconcile the desire to address social ills and injustices with success in the business world. Those of us who teach are challenged to find productive ways to bring ethics into the conversation. Giving Voice to Values (GVV) offers a timely set of FREE resources for doing so and they are available online. Also see a recent Harvard Business Review article: Talking About Ethics Across Cultures by Mary C. Gentile, December 2016.

GVV is not about persuading people to be more ethical. Rather GVV starts from the premise that most of us already want to act on our values, but that we also want to feel that we have a reasonable chance of doing so effectively and successfully. This pedagogy and curriculum are about raising those odds.

Rather than a focus on ethical analysis, the Giving Voice to Values (GVV) curriculum focuses on ethical implementation and asks the question: “What if I were going to act on my values? What would I say and do? How could I be most effective?”

Here are some tips for discussing ethics and values in your classroom:

  • Try using some GVV-style, post-decision-making case studies, that end not with a protagonist who has decided what is right and invite students to work together to craft, script and  share effective action plans for getting the right thing done.
  • Be sure to focus on cases that feature protagonists are various levels in the organization, not just the CEO, so the students can begin practicing how to create effective strategies right from the start.
  • Provide opportunities for peer-coaching around the most promising scripts and action plans. See the “Guidelines for Peer Coaching” document in the GVV Case Collection at http://store.darden.virginia.edu/giving-voice-to-values
  • Use the popular GVV exercise, “A Tale of Two Stories” as an introduction the approach, also available at http://store.darden.virginia.edu/giving-voice-to-values

GVV is being used all over the world– in over 970 business schools, businesses and other settings. This approach to leadership development was pioneered by Ethics Education Committee member Dr. Mary C. Gentile. GVV cases and materials draw on business practitioners’ experiences, as well as social science and management research.

For More Information on GVV, Contact: Mary C. Gentile Ph.D., GentileM@darden.virginia.edu, 978-468-2757  and visit:  www.MaryGentile.com and www.GivingVoiceToValues.org

 

Journal editors – unregulated and unmonitored

HI Friends

I’ve been quiet for a couple of months – summer schedule and all – and wanted to get back to the blogosphere. I’ll try and be more diligent.

Many strange things have been brought to my attention over the summer, but I thought I would start with a more personal experience. That way, if anyone want’s to comment, at least one side of the equation is available.

Last spring we sent a paper in to an unnamed FT50 journal. Normally, these top journals reply within three months – at least – that has been my experience until now, for the most part. One consequence of the enhanced competitive environment is that journal editors seem to invite submissions by promising faster turn around.

In any case, a full six months went by, without hearing from the journal. As a result, I contacted the editor directly.  The editor immediately responded, on a Friday,  by saying “I should have contacted him earlier” and that he would ‘get on it’. By Monday, we had our rejection, along with only one review, and a note from the editor saying he was unable to get a second review. He didn’t even bother adding his own comments to the rejection letter. Needless to say, the first review was not very helpful, but that is beside the point. This little exchange once again brings me to question the authority, transparency, and lack of professionalism sometime exhibited by editors of even top journals. One cannot help wondering, given the importance of these gate-keeping roles, how it happens that we have processes that appear cavalier, with no recourse regarding accountability, transparency, appeal, or arbitration. In this particular case, my career does not hinge on the outcome – but I must report – in many cases where individual careers are in jeopardy, I have more often observed arrogance than compassion.

So, this brings me to raise an important question – and I must highlight – this question does NOT apply to Academy of Management journals, where transparency and fairness seems to be much more institutionalized.

Who appoints these people as editors?

Who governs their behavior?

Why do we allow autocratic and incompetent behavior by editors, even of prestigious journals?

In my view, we have a serious professional need for an equivalent of ‘rate my professor’ for academic journals. Such an idea was posed a few years ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Robert Deaner who called for a “consumer reports for journals”. We could monitor and evaluate the review process, the editorial process, the time taken, and other aspects of peer review. If anyone is interested in starting such an activity, please let me know – as I think we really need some monitoring out there.

Happy Research!

Benson

 

The Moldable Model

by Don Dunn, PhD

Wrightandwrongdecisionse have researched ethical leadership for nearly 100 years, but not as extensively and with as complicated methodology as during the new millennium. Due to the ethical failure or dark leadership of so many corporations during the early years of the 21st Century, the study of company ethics has hit a feverish pitch in looking at best practices and organizational behavioral results.

Much of the literature on ethical leadership, specifically in the area of how we lead and manage ethics at the organizational or corporate level, offers a wide variety of components or processes needed to assure that a company operates ethically. The literature offers components such as codes, rewards, discipline, ethical training and communication, decision-making tools, accountability processes, and/or the new kid on the block – ethical audits. In reviewing the literature, I noticed that there was not a consensus on one model of consistent components to lead and manage ethics. Would it not be advantageous to know that there was some sort of model or framework by which any organization in any industry of any size could create, improve, or enhance its ethical culture? Would it not be beneficial to busy executives to have a framework that could easily be implemented in their organizations that would guide company ethics?

That was the problem and purpose of my research using a qualitative, multiple case study approach sampling three organizations of global, regional, and local reach that had demonstrated strong ethical processes. In researching these organizations, collecting data from three different sources, I was able to determine that a model of consistent components emerged from the single- and cross-case analysis.

The model is called the Moldable Model© (MM) because it has a fixed framework of three components that all organizations can use, but then can adapt or mold those fixed components to fit company-specific needs. The MM includes the fixed framework of these components: role modeling, context, and accountability or as delivered in the three R’s of corporate ethics: (1) Role modeling, (2) research Reasons or outcomes for being ethical, and (3) Responsibility or holding employees accountable for company values. Role modeling based on social learning and social exchange theories can be implemented in different ways in the organization; it is a leadership function (influence relationship). Reasons to be ethical are numerous, and specific reasons can be selected by the company to share with and to motivate employees toward ethical conduct. Responsibility or holding all employees responsible for company values is a management function (authority relationship) and includes a choice of several activities such as hiring protocols, consistent ethics training, communication of company ethics, rewards and discipline, ethical audits, and/or employee evaluations that include adherence to company values.

Specific explanations and implementation processes of the MM are available in my recently published book by Business Expert Press: Designing Ethical Workplaces: The Moldable Model©. The book was written for use in executive MBA programs and for PDWs, while based on solid research.

See: Dunn_BEP_Designing Ethical Workplaces-TheMoldableModel (4)

Educating the educators: Truth and justice in academic publishing

It seems I can’t visit anywhere without hearing harrowing stories of unethical and abusive editors, reviewers, and scholars. Before starting this blog, I would hear the odd tale or two – but now I seem to be ground zero for the often shocking admissions of disgruntled and abused colleagues the world over!

While it would be nice to view these unfortunate confessions as a biased sample, I am beginning to believe that the entire profession harbors within each of us, numerous examples of blatantly unethical conduct, all simmering and waiting to escape as some sort of neurotic or equally unjust retribution. In short, we may be the walking wounded. All of this has to do with our culture of scholarship – we need to carefully ask ourselves, what kind of culture are we promoting, and what are our overall objectives? How can we improve the cultural landscape that we operate in?

Just a few representative examples:

A junior colleague tells me an anonymous reviewer demands a series of coercive self-citations of their own, only tangentially relevant work. They also disclose, in the review, both who they are, along with insinuations that they know exactly who the jr. scholar is. The editor forwards this review with no comment.

A senior scholar reports presenting a paper with a unique novel analysis of public data during a conference. A few months later, she observes a conference paper written by a member of the audience who had attended the talk – utilizing the exact same methods and data.  There is no mention of her paper, not even an acknowledgement. Despite reminding the author of this sequence of events – by sending a copy of the proceedings as a reminder – the paper is eventually published, without a word of recognition, even though the editor is aware of the circumstances.

Dog eat dog…

Finally, we have the ‘curse’ of the special issue editors. These are often the unregulated wild west. I have heard more horror stories than I can relate in this short blog, but they range from ‘tit for tat’ expectations, to outstanding examples of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism. Editors taking advantage of writing themselves or their friends into special issues is very common. These may represent closed networks of special subject reviewers who are primed   to support primarily insider work – and reject outsider material. Social expectations trump scientific merit, and the entire effort becomes mired in politics.

While these are but a few examples, one begins to suspect that what is published is often not recognition regarding the high quality of the research, rather, it has to do with the social processes underlying how the work is presented. Rather than rewarding the highest quality work – or the most innovative work – we wind up with a kind of replication of the norm. We pat each other on the back regarding out methodological rigor, without really considering the accuracy or consequences of our efforts. No wonder managers in the ‘real world’ seldom pay attention to anything we do.

All of which suggests that we need more transparency in our publication and review process, as well as more insight into the methodological and philosophical rigour we use to approach our work. The idea of double blind is good – as long as it is truly double blind, and the objective is to enhance the quality of the subsequent product. However, all too often, we’re simply going through a well rehearsed process of convincing the editors and reviewers that our work is normative, while they go through the ritual of telling us how to frame an acceptable ‘story’ that meets their standards, irrespective of the accuracy of the work.

In a very insightful article, Bill Starbuck in the  60 year anniversary issue of ASQ points out the inconsistencies in reviewer evaluations, including the problems of submissions from ‘low status institutions’, convoluted formulas, and ambiguous editorial feedback. He also highlights the problems of signalling inherent in language usage, whereby reviewers can identify the origin of any particular manuscript’s authors.

Next, Bill tackles the issue of our efforts to enhance the importance of our work, irrespective of the actual merit, sometimes leading to corrupt methodologies, HARKing (Hypothesizing after results are known) and p-Hacking (subjecting data to multiple manipulations until some sort of pattern emerges) both of which misrepresent the accuracy of the theories discussed. Bill points out that this leads to “a cynical ethos that treats research as primarily a way to advance careers”.

Bill concludes that cultural changes are needed, but that they happen only slowly. Senior scholars must take a very visible lead – editors and reviewers alike. In the end, it’s really a matter of education.

I fully agree with Bill – we need to start looking at ourselves carefully in the mirror, stop quoting our individual H indexes, and begin the difficult task of educating ourselves regarding how to advance our scientific capabilities.

 

 

 

 

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.

Student abuse by faculty

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, lately, which in part accounts for my relative silence over the past few weeks. However, in the course of traveling, I keep coming across a set of similar stories, from throughout the world, although principally from developing countries, in particular, China and those in Africa.

The stories tend to be similar, in terms of exploitation of doctoral or junior faculty members, and go like this:

“At our university, the senior faculty insist that their names go first on every paper I produce, even those that they have not contributed to, in any way”.

Or,

“At our university, doctoral students do all the data collection analysis, and writing, but our names are never put on the paper – only that of the senior faculty”.

When I hear these stories, as both a scholar and an editor, I am outraged.  How is it that faculty members can openly exploit students and junior scholars is such a blatant fashion?  Why is it that no professional organization exists to come to their defense? Unfortunately, we are collectively partially responsible, as the publish or perish norms and intense competition that we have helped develop only exacerbates this problem.  It is, after all, a collective problem.

Of course, the exploitation of students is not entirely new. The recent movie “the Stanford Prison Experiment” shows the extent to which Lombardo went during his study, and the expense those participants must have paid.  Zimbardo, then an ambitious recently tenured scholar, was a consultant on the film, and it reportedly accurately reflects what took place. His subsequent work was devoted to more pristine socially progressive causes, such as understanding shyness. No surprise there…

Our code of ethics does address these issues, although not as directly as one might think. For example, on the aspiration side, with regard to integrity:

  1. Integrity

AOM members seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of their profession. In these activities AOM members do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact. They strive to keep their promises, to avoid unwise or unclear commitments, and to reach for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and practice. They treat students, colleagues, research subjects, and clients with respect, dignity, fairness, and caring. They accurately and fairly represent their areas and degrees of expertise.

Regarding specifically students:

  1. To our students. Relationships with students require respect, fairness, and caring, along with commitment to our subject matter and to teaching excellence. We accomplish these aims by:

Showing respect for students. It is the duty of AOM members who are educators to show appropriate

respect for students’ feelings, interests, needs, contributions, intellectual freedom, and rights to

privacy.  Maintaining objectivity and fairness. It is the duty of AOM members who are educators to treat  students equitably. Impartiality, objectivity, and fairness are required in all dealings with students.

1.6. Exploitative Relationships: AOM members do not exploit persons over whom they have evaluative or other authority, such as authors, job seekers, or student members.

And finally,

4.2.2. Authorship Credit

4.2.2.1. AOM members ensure that authorship and other publication credits are based on the scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved.

4.2.2.2. AOM members take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they

have actually performed or to which they have contributed.

4.2.2.3. AOM members usually list a student as principal author on multiply authored publications that  substantially derive from the student s dissertation or thesis.

I underlined the word “usually” under 4.2.2.3. I assume that the exception referred to are situations where the student would not be listed as principal author, but would be listed as co-author (although what these would be, and why they would be exceptions, is a bit of a mystery to me). However, it appears that from the perspective of some of our international members, this ‘exception’ may leave open the interpretation that a scholar may occasionally NOT cite a student as co-author, even when they are  a principal author. Further, and unfortunately, there is no mention of adding authorship to work where the scholar did NOT make a contribution (although 4.2.2.1 does seem to imply that such a deed would not be welcome).

So, what can we do collectively to eradicate this practice of exploitive advising? How can we get the message across different cultures and institutions that when an author submits a paper, the assumption by the editor – indeed, the social contract – ensures that an appropriate amount of work has been conducted by that author reflecting the order of authorship? Further, perhaps it is time our code of ethics become a bit more specific regarding some of these practices, in order to make it explicitly clear that exploitation of any sort is unwelcome in our profession.

How should we treat each other as scientific subjects?

At the Academy meeting in Vancouver this year, it was brought to my attention that there were PDW’s collecting research data on participating members – without a clear ethics approval or apparent ethics protocol. That is, there was no informed consent, yet data appeared to be collected.

This was not the first time I observed our collective avoidance of Ethics Review Board (ERB) or Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol when surveying ourselves.  As previous chair of AOM’s ethics education committee, I was tasked with repeating the ethics survey that we had administered to our entire membership some years before. The first thing that I did was to ask for the ethics review board protocol, in order to be sure I was following accepted procedures.

After a few weeks of embarrassing emails and back and forth confirmations, it was eventually clear that we had never submitted our own ethics survey to any kind of ethics review board. I was told that when the AOM board met to discuss this issue there was some hesitancy to constrain the activities of divisions surveying their membership – and no clear path to indicate who would serve as an accepted IRB for Academy research. My own decision was to obtain ERB approval and protocols from my own university, and proceed with the survey in that manner.

Many of us feel IRB’s are a burden. However, it is worth noting how many of these regulations came about.  For one, experiments on concentration camp victims horrified the scientific community, leading to the Nuremberg code. Much later, the experiments by Stanley Milgrom attempted to understand how people willingly agreed to do terrible acts to each other. His work, as well as famous Zimbardo prison simulation study, have led to tighter constraints on how to approach research, what is acceptable, and when ‘the line is crossed”.

One of my very first sociology professors was Laud Humphreys. He was famous for studying homosexual activities in public toilets, where he acted as the “watchqueen”. Later, he surreptitiously followed participants to their cars, identified their license plates, and showed up at their home disguised as a surveying health worker. This was done in 1960’s before IRB’s were mandated by the US federal government.

In fact, we have Academy members who come from countries where there is little of any oversight regarding research, particularly social science research.  However, I would argue we have a collective responsibility to observe the highest standards of research protocol, despite the burden, for our entire membership.

Our own code of ethics addresses this issue, although not as stridently as one might expect, as there is no specific mention of IRB procedures:

Participants. It is the duty of AOM members to preserve and protect the privacy, dignity, well-being,and freedom of research participants.

1.7. Informed Consent: When AOM members conduct research, including on behalf of the AOM or its divisions, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals, using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons. Written or oral consent, permission, and assent are documented appropriately.

2.4. Anticipation of Possible Uses of Information:

2.4.1. When maintaining or accessing personal identifiers in databases or systems of records, such as division rosters, annual meeting submissions, or manuscript review systems, AOM members delete such identifiers before the information is made publicly available or employ other techniques that mask or control disclosure of individual identities.

2.4.2. When deletion of personal identifiers is not feasible, AOM members take reasonable steps to determine that the appropriate consent of personally identifiable individuals has been obtained before they transfer such data to others or review such data collected by others

Most North American universities are under strict IRB procedures.  They are virtually unanimous in stating that all surveys involving human subjects should be subjected to ERB committees. Here are a few statements from the Canadian “Tri Counsel” that governs Canadian universities:

If the primary purpose, design, content and/or function of such surveys is to conduct “research”2 involving humans, then it would generally require REB review, under TCPS Article 1.1(a):

Very similar statements appear at the Cornell Univ. website:

At the end of the day, each of us, no matter where we do our scholarly work, have a responsibility to protect the respondent as much as possible, in every conceivable way. The distance between our own behavior, and the 16 German doctors convicted of experimenting on human beings without their consent, is an essential red line that we cannot allow to become a ‘slippery slope’. Thus, even when we decide to research ourselves, as professors, and colleagues, I believe we should commit to the highest standards of scientific ethical inquiry. Even if IRB’s are a ‘burden’.

 

 

 

Management Without Borders

As many of us get ready for the annual AOM conference, it is worthwhile considering the theme for a moment, “Opening Governance”. We are invited “ to consider opportunities to improve the effectiveness and creativity of organizations by restructuring systems at the highest organizational levels.”

I believe we can begin with ourselves, as professionals, by enhancing our ability to act as organizational catalysts, stakeholders, managers, and global leaders. Certainly, AOM has created some very important mechanisms to ensure fair and transparent governance, and we refer to our global responsibilities clearly in our code of ethics:

  1. To all people with whom we live and work in the world community.

Sensitivity to other people, to diverse cultures, to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, to ethical issues, and to newly emerging ethical dilemmas is required. We accomplish this aim through:  Worldview. Academy members have a duty to consider their responsibilities to the world community. In their role as educators, members of the Academy can play a vital role in encouraging a broader horizon for decision making by viewing issues from a multiplicity of perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are the least advantaged.

Like most of you, I’ve attended numerous academic conferences where great world issues are actively discussed and debated, including the relevance of management scholarship, of public policy research, Corporate Social Responsibility, and the like. Yet, as I think of our activities revolving around our conference and our professional roles, I often come up empty handed regarding the actual contribution our field makes in today’s current environments, particularly on a global basis. Most of us are fortunate enough to have established positions in wealthy ‘western/northern’ countries. We are rarely forced to worry about basic health care, nutrition, housing, and education, never mind political instability, personal freedom, safety and security, all of concern to most of the world’s population.

Henry Mintzberg, in his most recent book “Rebalancing Society” points out the need for a balance between government, business, and civil society (often referred to as the third sector, or by Mintzberg as the plural sector). He argues that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 was due to an imbalance (overly centralized government unbalanced with other forces) rather than a triumph of capitalism over communism. Our responsibility – as elite professional intellectuals – arguably includes helping to re-establish a balance that, according to Mintzberg (as well as many other scholars of public policy who examine empirical evidence) has become skewed, pushing civil society into the margins as a minority position. Resulting inequality, one consequence, should concern us all.

So, besides attending a conference exploring good governance, what else can we academicians do? What if the Academy developed and sponsored an ‘Academic Management Without Borders’ program? Is there any interest out there?

Required Reading!

Andrew Gelman and David Madigan at Columbia recently published an excellent reflection on the similarities between ethical decisions and statistical inferences. (This should be required reading for those of us who are developing content for the Ethics Education Committee’s workshops.) In particular, they point out that when problems (what we often call “dilemmas” in ethics) are either too easy or too hard, it is difficult to learn anything useful from them.

To show this, they begin with a really simple case in statistics, namely, election forecasting. If an election is too close, a statistical inference about the discrete outcome (wether the Democrat or the Republican will win) will not tell us anything about the model we’re testing. Likewise, when the election is a landslide, our statistical model is not really getting tested either. At least not by the discrete outcome. (As Gelman and Madigan point out, the model should be tested, not against the outcome of the election, but against the vote differential.)

They then apply this to ethics cases:

In general … the most informative ethics vignettes are those in which the call is not so close as to seem arbitrary, but not so obvious that the decision can be made without thought. The purpose of discussing the intermediate cases is to explore the way in which careful assessment of goals, motivations, costs, and benefits can help us make better decisions, and also help us understand the decisions of others.

We can take the question of scholarly misconduct, for example. There are really easy cases in which one scholar steals the work of another and publishes it as their own (or the case of student misconduct where a student buys a paper from another and submits it for a grade.) There isn’t really anything to discuss there; it’s wrong and everyone knows it. At the other end of the spectrum there are cases that are too difficult to evaluate: where a dispute over giving proper credit for a limited contribution to a paper arises, and all the facts are a matter of what was said to whom at what time without records being kept. In such cases, a practical settlement may be brokered, but it won’t clarify any principles. The disputing parties are (hopefully) just looking for a way to put it behind them and move forward.

The interesting cases are those where there are judgments to be made and tradeoffs to be considered. In the weeks to come, I’m going to be make an effort to write up some “vignettes”, with the aim of starting a discussion about whether they offer a useful basis for a discussion of ethics. I will be interested both in what is the right way to conduct oneself as a scholar in one’s primary work, and what is the right way to proceed when one encounters a possible ethical violation. As I’ve said before, that second set of problems is as rich an area for ethical reflection as the first.

I should be ready on Tuesday with my first vignette.