The American Society for Quality (ASQ) finds itself in yet another uncomfortable position as one of its Section Chairs is now in the spotlight for having written an article in which he provided legal advice on how alt-right activists can run over counter protesters with their cars. ASQ now faces the horrible reality that one of its lauded members, an ASQ Fellow, may have inspired the Charlottesville neo-Nazi terrorist attack of August 12th. It’s unlikely, but it’s nevertheless now in the realm of possibility, which should have never, ever happened.

As reported earlier, ASQ CEO William Troy has taken the baffling position that “diversity” in ASQ membership has to be applied across the board, allowing access to “ALL members, regardless of personal background.” Presumably, if Osama bin Laden or Pol Pot rose from the grave tomorrow and started attending CQE classes, Troy would be cool with that. No one believes that, so let’s stop pretending.

Troy’s posture on this has been all over the place, but consistently cowardly. When I first raised this to him over a phone call some six months ago, he promised he’d look into it, and said he’d set the Board of Directors on the issue. He feigned disgust at how, in response to my reporting, the Section Chair had published personal information about me and my family, in a horrible “doxing” campaign that went on for months. Troy bemoaned how his hands were tied, though, due to arcane ASQ procedures and the fact that they had never had this situation arise before, and didn’t have methods in place to handle it. I told him it wasn’t that complicated, and that the local fast food restaurant had ways to handle these things, but he promised to work on it.

But it wasn’t his family that was being attacked, and it wasn’t even his race that was being called “apes” and targeted for “extermination like cockroaches.” So there were a few emails swapped, but it was not going well. After an ASQ staffer put me in moderation on LinkedIn for pointing out how ASQ Fellows were engaging in some pretty nasty rhetoric, that was the final straw. Troy wrote “we’re not your enemy, Chris,” but everything his staffers were doing showed they were a petty, vindictive gang of self-important bureaucrats. I’m their bogey-man, the guy they blame whenever they get caught doing something wrong, since it’s easier to blame me than actually fix their problems.

So nothing of any substance ever happened. Privately, I’m told there was some paper shuffling among some internal “committee” members, and a discussion about revising the group’s ethics rules, but nothing has happened in six months. We know now he never raised it with the Board at all.  Then there was a full blown controversy behind the scenes as to who was even on the ASQ Board of Directors, raising questions on just how it’s been functioning, and whether Troy is just going solo. So now, despite a six-month heads up, ASQ finds itself staring down a full-on national controversy due to the Charlottesville incident for which it can’t say its Section Chair wasn’t an inspiration. If they had acted six months ago, they’d be able to boast about how they got in front of the issue before it turned into a national tragedy.

But now, even after the national tragedy, Troy has essentially admitted that he doesn’t really intend on doing anything anyway, while invoking the ASQ “Bylaws” (good luck finding those) and issuing a tone-deaf statement about diversity that seems designed to appeal directly to the Ku Klux Klan. Maybe some day ASQ will do something, only after they rewrite some unenforceable guidelines that are never followed anyway, and which aren’t conditions for anything, and which no one will ever read. They don’t follow the rules, they just talk about them, and only after they get caught breaking them. Ultimately, ASQ is a magazine publisher, and they no more care about what their subscribers do than the editors at Hustler or The National Enquirer.

The reason for Troy’s inertia is probably not that he agrees with the white supremacists, even if he’s giving off some dog-whistles to that effect. It’s more likely ASQ is terrified of being sued by the particular Section Chair. But this is hardly a reason to cripple the organization under a reputation of harboring racists, and thus potentially earn itself a full-on boycott. It’s not like the guy is a millionaire, and his money is already being spent in a suit against me, so, do the math. And lets face it, aggressively defending against such a lawsuit would certainly send a message that ASQ is serious about this, and not contorting itself into untenable positions all because of a single, racist member.

But in case all of that is too complicated, let me make it easy for Troy and the Board. Here are the exact steps they need to take to get in front of this nightmare before they find they have problems with their GSA contract, membership roster, certification sales and magazine subscriptions.

Steps to Recovery

First, ASQ must publicly denounce the writings of this particular Section Chair, as well as racism and sexism in general. It need not acknowledge any past failings (let’s not beat a dead horse), but it must make a clear and public statement that drives the message home to all members, current and future, that this behavior will not be tolerated while under the ASQ brand. It must clarify its position that diversity is important, and that those arguing against diversity are not covered under this umbrella. This will go far in correcting Troy’s mangled message, while ensuring ASQ is a welcome place for all people, of all races and sexes. Just not, you know, white supremacists.

This can’t be buried on some website, either. It must be broadcast across all the ASQ publishing platforms, social media, website, mailing list and various publications.

Then, ASQ must develop enforceable ethics rules for members, including Fellows, TAG administrators and functionaries, as well as the ASQ home office staffers. These can sit next to the current anemic, marketing blurb “Code of Ethics” that ASQ publishes and then routinely ignores; there’s no need to rewrite those, since everyone knows they are just fluff anyway. The new rules would sit above those, and have teeth. They would include a prohibition of illegal activities, racism, sexism and the usual bad behaviors. Right now, your local fast food restaurant has vastly superior ethics rules than ASQ, and that must change.

Next, ASQ must impanel an independent ombudsman, whether an individual or board, to investigate complaints against members and staffers who violate those rules. That function must have the power to strip the offending member of any and all status — including ASQ employment, if need be — when the complaint is proven. This means obtaining a “Fellow” status is no longer just a reward for maintaining a dues subscription, but a privilege that comes with professional responsibility. It must be possible to take back that privilege if behavior brings harm to the ASQ brand or the profession itself.

Finally, ASQ must then actively implement the entire structure, and not leave it sit in a dark corner of the website where no one sees it. The ombudsman must report on the progress of the scheme to the Board at least quarterly, and provide a summary of complaints against members. The policy for complaint filing must be made public, and the method for reporting must be easy, and available online; the complaints themselves can be private, of course, but processing them should probably follow the guidelines of ISO 10002.

See? That wasn’t very hard.

Best of all, this does nothing against the “free speech” rights of the offenders; they are free to espouse hate elsewhere, even on white supremacist websites if they want. If a racist author cannot get his work published in an ASQ journal, heck, he can always run over to Quality Digest.  It just means that ASQ — like any other corporate entity — refuses to have its brand associated with this behavior, thus allowing ASQ to exercise its free speech rights to reject hatred.

ASQ can’t stand by silently in the wake of what could be even a remote complicity in a national tragedy and act of domestic terrorism. It cannot continue to allow its members to insult, harass and intimidate fellow industry professionals. It cannot continue to allow its own staffers to engage in defamation and conflicts of interest. It holds important roles in both the development of international standards and the certification to them.  It must be better than this.

So now is the time for William Troy to step forward, show courage, and defend not only the American Society for Quality, but America itself. Our profession can have no room for hate speech that can inspire terrorism.

Failing that, the Board should consider forcing Mr. Troy to resign, or he can voluntarily step down and let someone tackle this who can get it done. But let’s see if they can adopt the simple steps above first.

 

    About Christopher Paris

    Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 25 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.