[Lingtyp] Functions of a Code of Conduct

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Tue Nov 21 19:58:59 UTC 2017

Dear all,
I think it is a good idea to have a code of conduct, but I also think
that the particular wording, the particular aims, and the procedure how
to agree on a text deserve some attention.

I served on the board of a mid-sized political party in the Berlin area
with several thousand members, where I was responsible for legal
affairs. This included drafting of by-laws, but also expulsion of
members which harassed others. I want to share some of the lessons I
learnt there.

I believe it is useful to think about the addressee of a Code of
Conduct. We can distinguish at least 4 potential addressees, and the
language in your CoC will be different depending on which addressee(s)
you have.

1. Harassers. Message: Harassers, you are unwanted here!
2. Victims. Message: Victims, we stand with you. Speak up, and you will
be heard!
3. Higher authority. Message: Higher authority, we have implemented a
CoC as requested
4. The legal system. Message: Your honor, defendant is in violation of
article XYZ, and therefore, measure M is justified.

Each CoC will have one main addressee from the list above.

I have drafted texts with each of these addressees in mind in the past,
and it is useful to have a clear idea what the particular function of a
CoC is. For instance, in my small local chapter of said party, we had a
CoC which basically said "If you are a sexist, a racist, etc, you can
f*ck off". This is case 1. This is nothing you would use in case 4, but
the strong language had the desired effect of keeping the trolls away
from the meetings. On the other end of the scale, we changed the by-laws
in such a way that harassment would constitute a violation of the
statutes of the party, which is one of only two possible reasons which
allow you to expel someone from a party in Germany. That language has to
be court-proof, i.e. there will be appeals against the exclusion, and
you enter the whole process of litigation. No one reads the by-laws in
their normal life, their only purpose is to be cited in court.

It is generally not a good idea to mix different addressees.

I believe that in the case of ALT, cases 2 and 1 are the relevant ones,
and cases 3 and 4 are not relevant. The wording of the CoC should
reflect that. The proposed version contains the threat of expulsion.
This immediately raises the question of who decides that X is to be
expelled, and what kind of appeal is possible in case X feels that this
is not justified (first reply in this thread: what about due course?).
ALT would have to have some kind of arbitration committee to deal with
such cases and so on, and I feel that ALT as an organization is not
ready to set up such a system.

Furthermore, the threat with expulsion needlessly switches the focus to
litigation. That threat is actually moot, will deter no one, and it
raises all kinds of legal questions which ALT as a rather loose
organization is not set up to handle. The threat with expulsion also
reduces the options of the conference organisers how to handle a
particular case. Basically, they only have the nuclear option, and they
will not want to call it. (Note that the organisers can already expel
anyone as they see fit, [Under German law, but probably also in other
jurisdictions] so there is no legal need for additional rules).

To sum up, I feel that i) the CoC should strengthen the position of
people who have been harassed and ii) send a message to harassers that
that behaviour will not be tolerated. This can be done by a variety of
means, but the proposed version of the CoC is not suitable.

I have some additional comments on procedure, which I will send in a
separate email.

Best wishes

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