Education and Adjudication

I’m gearing up to write a few posts on the procedural aspects of ethics at the Academy of Management. What happens when someone does something wrong and someone else tries to hold him or her accountable? Or what happens when someone who hasn’t done anything wrong at all is accused of wrongdoing? How are such disputes resolved? What role does a professional organization like the Academy of Management play in them?

Before I do that, however, I have to remind readers of the difference between the Ethics Education Committee (EEC) and the Ethics Adjudication Committee (EAC). This blog is written by members of the EEC and our aim is simply to teach the values and principles of the Code of Ethics to the members. The charge of the EAC is different. It is set up specifically to apply the Code in particular cases that are brought before it. In the middle, if you will (I’m actually not sure that’s the right metaphor, but let’s see how it goes), we find the Ombudsman, who is charged with helping people work out their disagreements informally and suggest formal ways to proceed if necessary.

It’s tempting to think of ethics education as preventative and ethics adjudication as punitive. But that’s a very narrow view. After all, our aim in the EEC is not just to discourage people from doing the wrong thing. Our aim is to show how doing the right thing “works”, i.e., to give a more detailed sense of what ethical behavior looks like, so that members become more capable of it, and even so that it will be preferred to less ethical behavior. Instead of reducing education to prevention, I’d prefer to elevate it to edification. Likewise, “adjudication” does not just mean punishing the bad guy. It means identifying the wrong that was done and finding ways to correct it. Sometimes this does mean that the wrongdoer needs to be identified as such and stripped of some specific set of privileges. (This is rarely something the AOM does, I should point out.) But what is most important is to reach a determination of the facts, and an assessment of right and wrong, so that the community can move forward.

Mistakes happen. Outright bad behavior happens too. But if it is not spoken about, or talked about without reaching a conclusion, then it has the potential to undermine the trust that scholarship requires.

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