How should we maintain a professional environment?

As co-chair of the AOM Ethics Education Committee, I’ve had a surprising number of individuals approach me with personal or professional violations, often asking what can be done, and what should be done. Thomas is going to examine some of the procedural components in his subsequent comments, but I thought I would begin with a few important underlying fundamentals.

First, our code of ethics is actually a statement of principles and guidelines. Unlike public laws, enforced by police, a judicial system, and constructed by representatives, our set of ethical principles are meant to inform, rather than restrict. The consequences of transgressing even the most important principle, no matter how blatantly, is basically limited to the very rare case of expulsion from the Academy of Management – not – pointedly – from the ‘Academy’ itself. So, at the end of the day, we are in the process of diffusing a set of principles that we have collectively fashioned to represent a normative behavior that we expect our colleagues to engage in. However, simply reading them – and being familiar with the professional standards and goals that we agree upon – is a marked step toward increasing our accountability, and our professional ethics. We owe it to ourselves, to our students, and to our profession to become familiar with this code. If you haven’t recently read it, I highly recommend doing so.

Many of the issues brought to may attention recently – ranging from the complexity of journal retraction, to issues regarding academic standards and authorship conventions – could be solved by simply behaving in resonance with item 3 , professional principles of our code, stating the importance of …”recognition of the dignity and personal worth of colleagues are required”.

It all sounds very simple – dignity and self worth – but what I see happening all too often is that the competitive nature of our profession is undermining our sense of community, of collegiality, and eventually impacting the quality and utility of what we accomplish as a profession. It is not possible to distance ourselves from our ethical responsibilities and focus exclusively on publication, without understanding the collective interpretations of our actions. Theoretical work on eugenics, lacking important ethical codes, resulted in the collapse of German academia and led to mass extermination. A very interesting study of the method and consequences of professional and academic demise can be found in the diaries of Victor Kelmper, here:

When each of us makes scholarly decisions – seemingly as trivial as checking the box for reject or major revision – we enact important elements of our code of ethics. Are we trying to advantage our own work at the expense of others? Are we interested in furthering our scholarly knowledge, or in advancing a particular opinion? Are we focusing on our last rejection, or are we ‘paying it forward’, primarily considering the advancement of managerial knowledge?

I invite you to share your experiences of ethical ‘forks in the road’ in this blog, anonymously, or otherwise, so that we can all benefit from our collective experiences.

One thought on “How should we maintain a professional environment?”

  1. Hi, Benson. Provocative stuff. I’d like to complicate matters a little by suggesting the possibility of “well-intentioned but unethical” behavior. For example, you might accept a paper, not to further your own carrier or promote your own ideas, but because you think an (apparently) young scholar deserves a chance. To do so you might have to set aside doubts you have about the paper’s methods or theories. Or you might simply not really understand what the paper is saying, and yet want to give it “the benefit of the doubt”. Even where this leads only to a revise & resubmit, remember, you will be giving yourself, your fellow reviewers, and an editor extra work to do, and you will risk exposing readers to an article of perhaps doubtful quality.

    When we think about “the dignity and personal worth of colleagues” we have to think broadly, not just in terms of the author we happen to be reviewing. But even in that case, “going easy” on someone, perhaps simply out of fear of looking like an “asshole” — in Bob Sutton’s technical sense of that term, of course 😉 — might expose the author to embarrassment later on, as readers begin to question the author’s competence as a scholar.

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