Score one for the good guys. Following months of pressure from yours truly, ASQ has finally updated the Code of Ethics, adding both an explicit prohibition against discrimination, and improving the enforcement language that indicates violators of the Code may be thrown out of the organization entirely.

The previous Code of Ethics was sparse and worded without much room for enforcement. Regarding the treatment of others (including other ASQ members), the Code only talked about “honesty” and “professional” behavior; nothing that could be proven or disproved one way or the other. The Code was entirely ignored, as well, with no known instances of an ASQ member ever being ejected for violations. Paul Palmes was discovered to have padded his resume for years, including during his election for US TAG 176 Chair — which is administered by ASQ — and yet he was not only never sanctioned, his election was allowed to stand. DNV’s Sidney Vianna was caught violating Oxebridge’s copyright at least six times by republishing our articles on Elsmar.com, and then adding defamatory commentary accusing me of mental health issues; while this caused him to lose his previous management position within DNV, ASQ continues to allow Vianna to operate within the Los Angeles section. ASQ Fellow Duke Okes has publicly insisted that women shouldn’t be offended by the word “bitch” since it’s not a sexist obscenity, and has since been found supporting Daryl Guberman, meaning Okes is only one degree of separation away from a guy who accuses ASQ of supporting terrorism. The list goes on and on.

The change was prompted by Oxebridge’s reporting on “risk-based thinking” author William Levinson, an ASQ Fellow and Section 209 Chair in Pennsylvania. After my negative review of his book on Amazon, Levinson engaged in “doxing” by publishing my personal financial records, including personal information about my family, address, and even the amount of furniture I owned, and then insisted that Oxebridge was a “bankrupt empty storefront.” Then we uncovered his cache of political writings, nearly all under his own name, which many viewed as racist. In these, Levinson constantly promoted the idea that “Euro-American culture” is superior to Third World nations, and denigrated Muslims, Chinese and others as “subhuman,” often referring to them as “apes.” He even made this claim against American students at the University of California Irvine, where he teaches. He once argued that Blacks are wrong to assume that if he calls them “nigger” that he means it as a reference to their skin color, when he actually means it as a description of “the content of their character.” He’s since accused Oxebridge of terrorism, compared me to ISIS, accused me of being a drunk (huh?), harassed some 30 or more of my clients, created websites hosted in the Bahamas (outside the reach of US courts) to defame me, told the planet I stole ISO’s copyrighted materials (even after ISO itself determined I hadn’t), compared my wife’s tour agency to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and researched the deed to my house in order to continue a campaign of harassment. “Creepy” doesn’t begin to describe it.

While Sermin Vanderbilt at AQI branded Levinson’s writings “hate messages” and pulled him from the speaker roster at last year’s ISO 9000 Conference, and then (apparently?) withdrew his book from circulation entirely, ASQ CEO William Troy insisted there was nothing the organization could do about his position as Fellow, even if he had violated the old Code of Ethics. Troy told me they had never encountered a situation like this; more likely is that they’d just ignored all the bad behavior of ASQ members, so long as they kept paying their dues and magazine subscriptions. Troy made matters worse when he later doubled-down and insisted that ASQ would not eject racists from its midst, instead saying he intended to ensure ASQ would be a home for “ALL members, regardless of personal background.” I pointed out that by that metric, Osama bin Laden could retain membership in ASQ provided he kept his Quality Progress subscription up to date.

So in August I wrote an article entitled ASQ Must Denounce Racism, Develop Enforceable Ethics Rules, which laid out exactly what ASQ needed to do to ensure the organization didn’t descend to the lowest common denominator of the Viannas, Okeses and Levinsons. At the rate ASQ was going, it risked losing decent, ethical members who wouldn’t want to be in the same room with the others. In that article I said, “ASQ must develop enforceable ethics rules for members, including Fellows, TAG administrators and functionaries, as well as the ASQ home office staffers.” I proposed these rules to sit above the current Code of Ethics, which I dismissed as essentially stupid, since they were being ignored.

I then insisted that ASQ “impanel an independent ombudsman, whether an individual or board, to investigate complaints against members and staffers who violate those rules.” Without enforcement, any new rules would be equally useless as the old ones were. Finally, I said that ASQ should issue a public statement against discrimination — without naming anyone, to avoid problems — if only to ensure the health of its brand.

ASQ ignored me on that last point, and — in a tone-deaf move that just underscores how off-the-rails the organization is on conditions in the current climate — tweeted an old article where ASQ essentially objectified women. Sigh.

But on the other two points, I’m happy to say that ASQ came through — at least on paper. The new Code of Ethics was rolled out a few weeks ago, but still hasn’t quite percolated through the Sections yet, nearly all of which continue to post the old rules. The new Code is vastly expanded, includes a specific prohibition against discrimination, and promises that violations. Furthermore, it explicitly states who is affected by it: “members, certification holders, and anyone else who may represent or be perceived to represent ASQ.” That’s huge, because it follows my call to ensure any change applies not only to members, but also to ASQ officials such as TAG Administrators, who have a notorious tendency to act poorly when confronted, and even Section Chairs, who have otherwise been untouchable no matter what monkeyshines they got into.

In addition, the code provides enforcement, saying “violations to the Code of Ethics should be reported.” It then provides a mechanism (sort of) to do so: through the ASQ’s “Professional Ethics and Qualifications Committee, appointed annually by the ASQ Board of Directors.” This group existed previously, but had little to do other than provide input on ASQ certification schemes and “Bodies of Knowledge.” The claimed ramifications are clearly delineated, too: “Disciplinary actions will be commensurate with the seriousness of the offense and may include permanent revocation of certifications and/or expulsion from the society.”

The policy is also open-ended, to ensure that things the Board didn’t consider when writing it are covered, by saying it will apply to situations “which may or may not be specifically called out in the text.”

Specific to the problem of racists acting out while repping ASQ, the Board added some strong words to the Code that will make it difficult for such folks to operate under an ASQ certificate or role:

Demonstrate Responsibility, Respect, and Fairness

  • Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of individuals, the public, and the environment.
  • Avoid conduct that unjustly harms or threatens the reputation of the Society, its members, or the Quality profession.
  • Do not intentionally cause harm to others through words or deeds. Treat others fairly, courteously, with dignity, and without prejudice or discrimination.
  • Act and conduct business in a professional and socially responsible manner.
  • Allow diversity in the opinions and personal lives of others.

This new paragraph presents an uphill battle for the trolls and hatemongers, obviously. There’s no way they can operate within the ASQ and still claim they comply with this Code of Ethics.

Meanwhile, this remains in compliance with the US Constitution’s First Amendment. No one is infringing on the rights of idiots to post whatever they want, or to otherwise act like assholes in public, but likewise ASQ has the First Amendment right to protect its brand. The trolls can keep posting, they just can’t do it while acting as an ASQ official or member.

ASQ is botching the rollout so far, though. They buried an announcement about the new Code in a members-only notice entitled “ASQ BoD Updates” – if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you’d never know ASQ changed the policy at all. Then, they updated the ASQ website in near silence; I only found it by pure chance when I was researching the code for something else, and noticed it had been updated. Even the ASQ page itself makes no mention that it was updated, nor that it replaces the previous one. As a result, most Section Chairs or members I spoke to had no idea the Code was changed at all.

According to the BoD announcement, this entire activity was the brainchild of Troy himself and Board Chair Eric Hayler:

During my term as chair-elect and chair, I have observed instances where our code of conduct did not seem to represent a modern, professional society of 70,000 global members. Our existing code of ethics has served us well, but needed review and revision. Therefore, Bill Troy and I asked the chair of the Ethics Committee, Scott Laman, to assemble the committee to take a fresh look at the code and suggest changes to the board.

I am happy to say the committee took on this critically important task with the objectivity, skill, and energy of true quality professionals. Their hard work resulted in a proposal for a new, and much more comprehensive code of ethics for the Society. I am happy to report the board has adopted this new code of ethics and it is available for your review.

Eric Hayler (November 10, 2017)

Then, in minutes from a December 8th Board meeting:

Scott Laman, Ethics Committee Chair, presented the new Code of Ethics proposal.

• Gaps were identified for which the old version was either unclear, incomplete or difficult to apply to situations, which were addressed by the new proposal.

• Board members recognized the tremendous efforts by Scott and the Ethics Committee to research and create the new Code of Ethics proposal.

• The board voted to approve the new Code of Ethics proposal, the motion passed unanimously.

Left out of that history is the part where I was tweeting to Board members such as Google’s Austin Lin, all of whom put on a brave face attempting to pretend they weren’t listening to my calls for an update to ASQ policies on the matter of discrimination. But it’s not unsurprising that the ASQ leadership is taking sole credit for this change, leaving Oxebridge out of it, and I won’t bug them on that point. They were always going to pretend that such a move was driven by themselves, lest they reveal just how influential an outsider — who’s not even a member! — can be. The thing is, this was never a heavy lift. These were things any modern society should have had decades ago, and it’s a sad commentary that it took dragging ASQ kicking and screaming to get them to do it.

There’s still a lot missing. ASQ needs to more aggressively promote this new Code of Ethics, and force all Sections to update their websites and notify their members. They need to provide a link or contact information to someone who will process complaints or allegations of violations; it’s not like everyone has Scott Laman’s personal email address handy, assuming he’s even the guy to report these things to. Next, ASQ still needs to make a more public statement against discrimination, although this Code is a good first step that mitigates the need for it (but, come on now, is that a such a hard thing to do?)

But the real challenge ASQ now faces is whether or not it will uphold the Code, and enforce it. That lies in the hands of Laman and the others, and one hopes that ASQ begins to apply the Code where necessary. Done right, this will mean short-term pain for the organization, as it has to purge its ranks of bad-behaving members and even some of its own staff. But that pain will be momentary, and will provide ASQ a platform that is based on an actual moral compass, ensuring that members of whatever nationality, belief, religion and even opinion about ASQ are welcome to join and thrive, provided they constrain themselves to the basic expectations of decent human beings. This can only be a good thing for ASQ, with nearly no downside. Yeah, they will have a few books in their back catalog, written by some of the bad actors, but that’s in the past: ASQ should move forward, with this new Ethics policy leading the way.

Will they? Or is this more lip-service? Talk about it on the O-Forum and post your ideas or comments.

 

    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.