Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Letter on The New ASIH Code of Conduct

Dear ASIH members,

The ASIH Board of Governors recently voted to approve a Code of Conduct for our annual meetings (see: http://www.asih.org/sites/default/files/documents/about/asih-code-of-conduct_2017-02-13.pdf). As the principal “author” of that document, I was asked to provide some context regarding this new ASIH policy.

First some history. The Code of Conduct (CoC) that ASIH adopted was based on a similar document that was approved by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) in fall 2016. With permission from SICB, we used their document as our starting point. Subsequent drafts were revised based on suggestions from members of the ASIH Executive Committee (EXEC) and Board of Governors. An early draft of the CoC also received critical input from a Title IX Officer at California State University, Northridge. In total, the document went through six drafts before it was approved.

The most common question that has arisen has been why just an ASIH CoC policy given we share our meeting with other societies? From the moment we set out to develop this policy we had a JMIH-wide CoC in mind. However, we have no control over the policy decisions of the other JMIH societies, and at least one of them had attempted to create and approve its own CoC for more than two years without success. We also wanted ASIH to take the lead recognizing that it is generally easier to work from an existing and extensively vetted document. Recently, a committee that includes representatives from ASIH, AES, HL, and SSAR was formed and tasked by the respective society presidents to draft a CoC for JMIH. This document will ultimately be voted on by all JMIH societies. If you are interested in contributing to this discussion, please feel free to contact me.

Some members may wonder why we even need a CoC. In a perfect world we wouldn’t, but too many of us have heard about, been witness to, or personally experienced actions, behaviors, or comments at our meetings that were clearly unacceptable and can no longer be tolerated. In particular, we cannot tolerate offenses directed towards members of federally protected classes, which include: gender (or sex), gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, disability (physical or mental), genetic information, marital status, medical condition, nationality, country of origin, race or ethnicity (including color or ancestry), religion or religious belief, or military/veteran status. If we wish to continue to grow our society and respective disciplines, our student and junior members also deserve our sincere respect and protection. Members who experience CoC violations at our meetings (including witnesses) need to know they will receive prompt and confidential support from society leadership. Similarly, would-be perpetrators need to be aware that offensive actions, behaviors, and comments are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Another concern that has been expressed is the challenge of defining “offensive,” particularly because there is considerable variance in what our diverse members may deem offensive or consider warranting CoC action by EXEC. While we acknowledge that variance in perception will depend on the context, offender, and receiver, we hope that the membership can trust their elected officers to fairly investigate and consider all the evidence of each case before rendering a decision and associated consequences. Our EXEC officers may not be lawyers, but each will receive Title IX training so they can make decisions that are informed by federal law, while also taking into account broader ethical standards and simple common sense.

We wish to make it clear that this policy was not intended to protect us from everything we might deem offensive at our meetings. For example, although we expect our members to be respectful of one another, the CoC should play no role in stifling professional debate. Critical peer review and spirited discussions of data and ideas are hallmarks of science, and make us all better ichthyologists and herpetologists. Likewise, this policy was not intended to make our meetings less fun. Opportunities for socializing, imbibing, and playfully joking with our friends and colleagues make our annual meetings enjoyable events. This policy was not meant to interfere with these activities or others that consenting adults choose to do. At the same time, we need to be cognizant of professional and social hierarchies, and sensitive to how our actions, behaviors, and words may intentionally or unintentionally offend others, which fortunately very few of us ever set out to do.


Robert E. Espinoza

Co-Chair, Long Range Planning and Policy Committee

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