Codes? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Codes!*

Earlier this year, for the first time in the 70-year history of ASJA, the Board of Directors adopted a comprehensive Code of Conduct for Officers, Directors, Staff, and Members. The Code is applicable across the board, to everyone associated with AJSA and to all the organization’s activities. Nonmember attendees at ASJA events, as well as vendors and service providers, also will be subject to the guidelines.

The Code took effect upon adoption and to avoid any confusion going forward, members will acknowledge that they have read the document and will adhere to it when they join or renew their memberships. The Code is available on the ASJA website, under the “About ASJA” pull-down tab on the public side of the site and under the “Administration” pull-down tab on the members’ side. It’s worth a read.

Two broad areas of concern are addressed in the Code: harassment of any kind, directed at anyone, and conduct, either by or with ASJA, that falls below a high standard of professionalism and ethical responsibility.

Dealing with harassment is more straightforward than you might think—ASJA leadership, staff, and our members are expected to treat everyone with the same respect that we all want and deserve. In other words, think of the Code of Conduct as our version of the Golden Rule.

The Code is not limited to allegations of sexual harassment. Instead, the broad definition of “harassment” includes “any behavior (including online communications) that is deemed to be hostile or offensive.” Harassment also includes a failure to comply with specific standards established for participation in ASJA programs such as the Forums, Client Connections, and our virtual activities.

Big Brother won’t be watching. The Code does not establish a strike force of “conduct police” to lurk in the shadows and stalk everyone at the New York conference or online. Harassing people in the guise of preventing harassment obviously defeats the purpose of the Code. Leadership and staff of ASJA will respond appropriately, however, when harassment is observed or reported by a third party. Sanctions against an offender, if found necessary after an investigation, may include suspension of access to an activity or program that may, in serious instances, be permanent. The goal is to make participation in all ASJA activities a welcoming and productive experience for everyone.

The standards for professional responsibility define how ASJA will conduct its affairs. They include:

  • Ensuring the responsible use of ASJA resources
  • Conducting business with “honesty, integrity, due diligence, and competence”
  • Always working in the best interest of the organization
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Treating others with respect
  • Leading by example by always acting professionally.

A fair question is this: ASJA has managed quite well for seven decades without a formal Code of Conduct, so why do we need one now? Has something changed?

Thankfully, harassment has not been an issue. Our conferences have not been overrun by rowdy hooligans, much like European soccer has in recent years; nor are we awash in unethical or unprofessional business dealings. Instead, the Code of Conduct is the Board’s proactive affirmation of the guiding principles set out in ASJA’s mission. The Code shows to the world that we are serious about our long-established goal of bringing “leadership in establishing professional and ethical standards, as well as in recognizing and encouraging the pursuit of excellence in nonfiction writing.”

And, no, the Code of Conduct is not our attempt at censorship. Advocacy on behalf of writers and protection of the First Amendment—more important in today’s political environment than ever—have been major goals of ASJA’s mission for decades. The open exchange of ideas and freedom of thought and expression are central to our mission and nothing about that has changed. By setting out guidelines for what should be common sense, the Code promotes mutual respect for ASJA and among its members, leadership, and staff.

It’s a good idea, a long time coming.

*With apologies to John Huston, who wrote and directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre