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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