Computing Profession From the ACM CEO

Ethics and Values in the ACM Awards Program

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Vicki L. Hanson

Over the years, ACM has thoughtfully crafted a Code of Ethics (the Code)a and a set of Core Valuesb to guide what we as ACM members consider appropriate conduct as computing professionals. Across all aspects of ACM programs, these ethics and values should influence our actions, choices, and processes. With this in mind, I would like to share information about the new Policy for Honors Conferred by ACMc (Honors Policy).

This Honors Policy and its associated proceduresd have taken into account ACM's ethics and values to address two overarching issues with respect to awards: First, awards will not be given to individuals currently under sanction for violation of ACM policies. Second, the awards procedures now address revocation of an award.

As background, the ACM Awards Program encompasses about 150 ACM Awards, SIG Awards, and Advanced Member Grades (Senior Member, Distinguished Member, and Fellow). Collectively, these awards comprise ACM "Honors," recognizing ACM members, SIG members, and non-members for a variety of technical accomplishments and other contributions to the computing community. Conference Best Paper awards are not within the scope of the Honors Policy.

Since its inception, the Code has served as a guide for ethical conduct of ACM members. In October 2021, the ACM Council affirmed the importance of upholding the ethical principles in the Code by amending ACM's bylaws to have the Code extend to our community beyond ACM members. The amended bylaws state: "Commitment to ethical conduct is required of every ACM member, ACM SIG member, ACM award recipient, and ACM SIG award recipient."e

The Code provides a framework for ethical thinking in professional situations. This ethical thinking takes into consideration the ACM values of computing for positive impact as well as ACM values of non-discrimination and respect for diversity. The Code addresses not only day-to-day issues that computing professionals may face, but also specifically applies to all ACM activities. Examples of such ACM activities include conferences and workshops, authoring or reviewing journal and conference submissions, and interactions with colleagues (both students and established professionals) globally at any ACM event or committee meeting. The Code provides ethical guidance in these situations, with more specific considerations having been developed by ACM for issues arising with respect to harassmentf or publications.g

With the ACM Council's adoption of the Honors Policy in 2021, ethical conduct of an award candidate or honoree is now considered. The intent is to help ensure those who receive an award demonstrate not only great achievement, but also exemplify the values important to our community. In short, honorees should represent the best of the profession.

For ACM Awards and Advanced Member Grades:

  • Nominators and endorsers are now informed of the new procedures when nominating candidates and are asked to indicate whether they are aware of any conduct on the part of the nominee that violates ACM's Code of Ethics or Core Values.
  • Information about ethical misconduct can be disqualifying in some cases or, in other cases, will be considered in ACM Award Committee decisions.
  • As a condition of receiving an award, any honoree who is a non-member must agree to abide by the Code.

As noted, this new Honors policy also addresses the very serious matter of award revocation, needing ACM Council approval for such revocation. Consideration of award revocation requires a formal complaint to be investigated by the Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE). If warranted, based on the investigation and the best interests of the community, award revocation may be recommended to the ACM Council.

Further details about these policies and procedures can be found on ACM's Awards website.c,d

In the future, procedures consistent with this Honors policy will need to be developed by SIGs for their awards. Many SIGs have already indicated their desire to implement such procedures.

I am grateful to ACM's Awards Committee Co-Chairs John White and Roy Levin for their insights and dedication in the development of the new Honors Policy. Working with their Awards Committee and ACM leadership and listening to the ACM community, they undertook this major effort, reaffirming ACM's commitment to ethics and values.

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