[Lingtyp] Comments on Code of Conduct discussion

Good, Jeff jcgood at buffalo.edu
Thu Nov 23 12:23:16 UTC 2017

Dear all,

The ALT Executive Committee has been actively reading all posts related to the proposed Code of Conduct. If we have not replied sooner, it is simply due to the inherent delays for deliberation among members of a body spread across multiple time zones.

We take the concerns about the procedure adopted here seriously, and I would like to provide some background information that may be helpful to those following this discussion on this list.

-A copy of the ALT statutes can be found here: http://www.linguistic-typology.org/ALTstatutes.pdf. (I don’t know how long they have been there precisely, but a search of the Internet Archive suggests that they have been posted for some time on the main homepage, but in a place that would be easy to miss.)

-As has been pointed out, the ALT Statutes are not especially helpful in determining the best procedure for adopting something like a code of conduct. In fact, from what I understand of the Association, it has always been run relatively informally. In some respects, I believe that this makes sense: It has limited resources and is run by volunteers. Asking them to adhere formal procedures would add to their workloads in ways that would likely make it impossible to find willing volunteers to do the work needed to keep the Association going.

-For many years, ALT membership has been handled by the publisher of Linguistic Typology, De Gruyter Mouton, and they have provided an important service to the Association in this regard. However, for various reasons, the nature of the arrangement makes it difficult for ALT to maintain a proper list of current members. This has long made the restriction that “only members can vote” difficult to strictly maintain. Since most votes have involved elected offices and have been overwhelmingly positive, this has not been a significant practical concern until now.

-The proposal to adopt a code of conduct, and consideration of the Association’s response to the problems associated with sexual harassment more broadly, took place over a period of several months and was not restricted to the Executive Committee alone but also, in particular, involved consultation with the Local Organizing Committee for the upcoming conference in Canberra. The Executive Committee decided that a matter of this kind should be put to a vote of the membership rather than being treated as a simple Executive Committee decision. The discussion on this list suggests that this was the right decision but that the procedure to be followed should have been thought through more carefully. We acknowledge this and will work to address this issue.

-Previous recent ALT votes have not been anonymous, but I decided that a vote on the Code of Conduct should allow for anonymity and, for expediency, decided to include the vote for the Executive Committee on the same ballot. This does mean that we cannot fully verify if “members” are voting, but this is extremely difficult anyway since we can’t actually get a complete list of members as indicated above. Given this, concerns regarding procedure are well taken. When the voting period closes, the Executive Committee will examine the results with this problem in mind. Even before the discussion on this list took place, I would have made clear to them the potential problems with interpreting anything other than an extremely clear vote as a vote in favor or opposed. (Some might wonder why these procedures were not carefully laid out before hand. This goes back to the relatively informal way that ALT has been run over the years for reasons mentioned above.)

-At this stage, the Executive Committee plans to wait to develop a specific plan forward until the vote has completed. At that time, it can examine the results of the vote and make them available to readers of this list. This will provide useful information even if only treated as an informal poll. We want to make clear that we have no interest in forcing a controversial code on the entire membership. Several posts to this list have suggested how we can move forward productively on this topic from a procedural perspective. We can use these as a starting point for consideration of this issue at the biennial meeting and then take the conclusions of that meeting back to this list to get further feedback. In the meantime, we can work with the Local Organizing Committee to develop a specific way to address the issue of harassment at the upcoming conference that takes all of the concerns raised on this list into account.

I would like to take this opportunity to add that some members of the Executive Committee have heard privately from individuals on this list about the importance to them of adopting a code of conduct along the lines of what has been proposed due to their own personal experiences. It is clear that the nature of the conversation on this list has not been conducive to the participation of individuals who have experienced harassment or uninvited behavior at conferences. I believe it is important for those on this list to know that these viewpoints have been made known, even if they can only be transmitted indirectly.

Finally, for those would like to provide further input on the code or the procedure for moving forward, I would ask that you consider whether your comments are best directed to all readers of this list or to the Executive Committee specifically. If the latter, I would encourage you to contact us directly, or you can contact me or Kristine Hildebrandt, and we will pass your input along to them.

We will continue to actively read this discussion as we develop a proposal to move forward on this issue.

Jeff Good
President, Association for Linguistic Typology

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