Tuesday, February 2, 2021

AAS Code of Ethics and the Code of Ethics Committee

By Alison Coil, Meredith Hughes, Angela Speck

In 2016 the AAS created a Code of Ethics that covers a wide range of topics, including harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, research, publication, authorship, peer review, and more. As stated in the Code, it is presented as a set of guidelines and best practices for professional behavior. However, it holds no authority or meaning if the code is breached without consequence. Therefore there is a process to report and guide the resolution of suspected breaches of this Code. As members of the Code of Ethics Committee (CoEC), we want to ensure that AAS members know both about the Code itself and the reporting process. 

As the CoEC has matured over the past four years, we have been striving to find a balance between maintaining confidentiality and ensuring transparency in our process, as well as between bringing resolution as quickly as possible without sacrificing completeness and the time necessary for full consideration and careful communication. One of the strengths of the process is that we are able to take actions as a professional society, evaluate scientific issues, communicate with institutions, and follow up on patterns of behavior in a way that individuals and universities often can not. While there are limitations to the jurisdiction of the AAS, we want to encourage our community to be aware of and to make use of this important new resource. The CoEC is here to serve AAS members and to strengthen our community by raising and enforcing our professional standards of behavior. Please reach out to us with questions and concerns about the process!

A FAQ for the Code and reporting process can be found at http://aas.org/comms/ethics.

Here, we want to briefly highlight a few key points:
  • Any AAS or Division member or affiliate, or any meeting attendee (regardless of membership status), who experiences or witnesses a possible violation of the AAS Code of Ethics may report it either online or by phone (see the ‘Submit a Complaint’ link at http://aas.org/policies/ethics).
  • Reports cannot be anonymous, as anonymity does not allow for follow up, which is necessary. The reporting process is confidential.
  • The process involves a written complaint of the incident by the person who reported it, as well as a response by the relevant party, and it may involve a third party investigator if deemed necessary by the CoEC. The CoEC then makes recommendations, which may include sanctions. Final decisions are made by the AAS President, and there is an appeal process. While the process may sound overly formal, it is important to have a clear, consistent, and fair process for every submitted complaint.
  • A range of sanctions are available, which can include a private reprimand (for cases where there has been an ethics violation but the violation did not cause serious personal and/or professional harm), a denial of privileges (such as AAS membership or a AAS award, publishing in a AAS journal, etc.), a notification of sanction to a home institution, public censure, and/or termination of AAS membership.
  • We now offer to provide a volunteer support person for anyone who files a complaint, as well as for respondents, to support them through this process and help them understand it and the feedback they receive from the AAS. 
Details of the process are provided at http://aas.org/policies/ethics. In order for the Code of Ethics to be of use to our community, it needs to be upheld and enforced. We encourage AAS members to review the Code of Ethics closely, report potential violations as they arise, and reach out to members of the CoEC with questions.

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