At the 2014 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Executive Officer Sally Hillsman, met with the Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) and suggested that it was time to revise the Code of Ethics. Revisions were last made to the Code 20 years ago, and a great deal of change had taken place. Regulatory and technological advances have had striking impacts on the field. At the time, the Department of Health and Human Services was about to announce changes to The Common Rule, which governs the vast majority of human subjects research efforts. To that end, a committee was formed to consider possible revisions. All members of this committee are either current or former members of COPE. Chaired by Tom Van Valey, the members are Earl Babbie, Guillermina Jasso, John Kennedy, and Roberta Lessor.
After a long and careful process, the revision committee and COPE have prepared a proposed revision to the Code which Council will present to the full membership of the ASA for a vote in the spring of 2018. This article provides you with some context that will be helpful as you consider your vote.
The ASA Code of Ethics
The ASA has had a working Code of Ethics approved by its membership since 1971. The ASA Code has been revised several times, most recently in 1997. The current (1997) version of the Code opens with an introduction, a preamble, and five general ethical principles: Professional Competence; Integrity; Professional and Scientific Responsibility; Respect for People’s Rights, Dignity and Diversity; and Social Responsibility. These principles provide the underlying framework for the more specific ethical standards that should govern sociologists’ professional conduct. The Code addresses ethical issues related to the many roles sociologists assume in teaching, research, service, practice, and supervision. The full text of the current Code of Ethics and the policies and procedures for the operation of COPE are available on the ASA website at www.asanet.org/ethics . The proposed revision to the Code, which is to be scheduled for a vote by the membership, can be found there as well.
Summary of Revisions to the Current ASA Code of Ethics
- General copy-editing throughout to simplify, clarify, and shorten (by two pages)
- New Preamble – The old Introduction has been combined with the old Preamble
- New General Principle – A Principle on Human Rights has been added, patterned after the template provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Reduced the Code from 20 to 19 standards (by removing the current Standard 1 – Professional and Scientific Standards – which was redundant with the revised General Principles)
Revisions to Standards
- Editing to the standards on Discrimination, Harassment and Employment Decisions, including language from the ASA Committee on the Status of LGTBQ People in sociology
- Restructuring of the Conflict of Interest standard, and adding a statement on Conflict of Commitment
- Expanding the standards dealing with Confidentiality, covering Teaching, Research, and Practice
- Restructure of the standards on Research (e.g., Informed Consent, Data Sharing) to align them with the new Common Rule
- Expansion of the standard on Plagiarism, including language dealing with self-plagiarism requested by the ASA Committee on Publications
- Clarification and expansion of the standard on Authorship
- Expansion of the standards on Teaching, including subject matter expertise, dual-role relationships, and confidentiality
Revisions to the COPE Policies and Procedures
- Expansion of the jurisdiction of COPE to include persons who are not currently a member of the ASA but who may have violated the Code when they were members
- Clarification of the Appeal procedure and confidentiality
The Revision Process
Following the 2014 Annual Meeting, the committee began its efforts by reaching out for comments and suggestions. In addition to an article in Footnotes announcing the committee and its task, an email address (COPE@asanet.org) was set up for comment from members of the ASA. Also, messages were sent to chairs of all ASA sections, the regional sociological associations, aligned sociological organizations, and international sociological associations. Comments and suggestions were also provided by ASA staff. This outreach effort produced a long list of possible topics and issues.
The members of the committee reviewed the suggested topics and issues. They discussed them, their relevance to the Code, and the ASA’s ability to implement them. In light of these issues, each of the members of the committee next reviewed the current Code and identified specific sections that seemed to require clarification, modification, expansion, or deletion. These reviews were combined into a master document and distributed back to the committee members. The members were then asked to identify those issues which they felt were top priorities. This progress was reported to COPE at the 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago. The committee then continued to work on various sections of the Code as well as the policies and procedures that govern the operations of COPE, facilitated by many conference calls.
In spring 2016, the committee met for several days to finalize most of the issues to be revised and to draft language for all but a couple of sections of the Code. These sections were completed a few weeks later and circulated to the committee for review and comment. Once these last sections were completed, the entire draft was assembled and again circulated for review.
In June 2016, when the committee agreed on initial drafts of the revised Code and the Policies and Procedures for COPE, copies were sent to Hillsman for her review. Following her input, the original text of the Code along with all the suggested changes made by the committee were presented to COPE at the Seattle Annual Meeting. The members of COPE at that time included: Jennifer Glanville, Janice Irvine, Valerie Leiter, Willie Jasso, Woody Doane, Glenda Flores, and Elaine Howard Ecklund.
Following the Seattle meeting, the revision committee, the members of COPE and current ASA Executive Officer Nancy Kidd, also discussed and further revised the draft. Once consensus was reached, the proposed revision was provided to ASA lawyers for their review. That resulted in several conference calls, much discussion, and further revisions.
By March of 2017, the revision committee, COPE, and the Executive Officer felt that the ASA Council should be informed of the nature of the changes being recommended. Consequently, Council members were provided with copies of the drafts of the revised Code and the COPE Policies and Procedures and, at the winter Council meeting, Van Valey presented a summary of the changes and responded to questions. Van Valey and Kennedy also made a presentation on the proposed revision at the North Central Sociological Association meeting. Following the presentations, the final versions for both the Code and the Policies and Procedures were negotiated with the ASA lawyers. Those materials were provided to ASA Council for their consideration at the August Council meeting.
At the Montréal Annual Meeting, COPE voted to recommend that the revised Code is ready for a vote of the membership, and they voted to recommend that the Policies and Procedures that govern COPE be implemented by Council. The members of COPE (as of the 2017 meeting) include: Jennifer Glanville, Ashley Wood Doane, Glenda Flores, Elaine Ecklund, Irene Bloemraad, Manuel Barajas, Ginetta Candelario, and Steven Gold, with Guillermina Jasso as Chair. Council subsequently approved both recommendations of COPE.