Ethics Policy and Procedures

Policy and Procedures

Committee on Professional Ethics
(an adaptation of the ASA Committee on Professional Ethics and Code of Ethics)


These Policies and Procedures describe the responsibilities of the Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) of the Mid-South Sociological Association (MSSA), the general operating rules of COPE, and the policies and procedures related to submission and resolution of complaints of violations of the MSSA Code of Ethics.

Part 1. Responsibilities and authority of COPE

1. Responsibilities

COPE has been established by the Executive Council of MSSA to promote ethical conduct by sociologists and others at the highest professional level through development and sponsorship of educational activities for MSSA members and MSSA conference participants; investigation of complaints concerning the ethical conduct of members of MSSA and MSSA conference participants; and imposition of sanctions when a violation of the Code has been substantiated.

2. Authority of COPE

COPE is authorized to (a) Publicize the Code of Ethics to the members of MSSA and other interested persons. (b) Educate the members of MSSA and other interested persons concerning the ethical obligations of sociologists under the Code of Ethics through articles, seminars, lectures, casebooks, or other materials. (c) Recommend to the MSSA Executive Council changes in the Code of Ethics and these Policies and Procedures. (d) Provide to individual members of MSSA on an informal and confidential basis advice regarding their ethical obligations under the Code of Ethics. (e) Seek to resolve allegations of unethical conduct of members of MSSA and MSSA conference participants informally though mediation or other means. (f) Investigate allegations of unethical conduct of members of MSSA and MSSA conference participants, determine violations of the Code of Ethics and, where appropriate, impose sanctions. (g) Adopt such rules and procedures governing the conduct of all matters within its jurisdiction as are consistent with the Constitution and Operating Procedures of the Association, the Code of Ethics, and these Policies and Procedures.

3. Responsibilities of the Executive Council

(a) Works with COPE in the administration of 2(a)-(g).

(b) Reports to COPE on an annual basis the number and types of complaints received, the number recommended for informal resolution, and any other pertinent information regarding the involvement of the Executive Council in ethics inquiries.

Part II. Operating Rules of COPE

1. Membership

The members of COPE shall be appointed in accordance with the By-laws of the Association. After the end of his/her term of office a member of COPE may continue to participate in the investigation of a matter to which he/she was previously assigned, and such member may participate in reading the findings and recommendation with respect to that matter.

2. Officers

The Chair of the Committee on Professions will serve as Chair of COPE. In addition to the Chair, COPE consists of 5 members who serve staggered terms of two years each. The members of COPE and a designated CO-Chair are appointed by the Executive Council on the recommendation of the President and Chair. No member is to serve more than two successive terms. At least one month prior to the Annual Meeting, the President and Chair of COPE shall deliver to the Council their recommendation for new members and a designated CO-Chair. Members shall then be appointed at the Council meeting held during the Annual Meeting of the MSSA and shall serve a term of two (2) years beginning the last day of the Annual Meeting. The Chair shall have primary responsibility for carrying out the mandate of COPE. The CO-Chair shall have the authority to perform all of the duties of the Chair when the latter is unavailable or unable to perform them, and shall perform other tasks as delegated by the Chair.

3. Meetings

A regular meeting of COPE shall be held annually in connection with the Annual Meeting of the Association. Additional meetings may be held, upon the call of the Chair, from time to time in person or by telephone conference call.

4. Quorum and Voting

A quorum for the transaction of business at any meeting of COPE shall consist of a majority of the members then in office. All decisions shall be by majority vote of the members present at a meeting.

5. Voting by Mail

Any action of COPE which could be taken at a meeting may be taken upon the affirmative vote, in writing or by electronic communication, of a majority of members then in office.

6. Conflicts of Interest.

No member of COPE shall participate in the deliberations or decision of any matter with respect to which the member has a conflict of interest as outlined in the Code of Ethics.

Part III. Enforcement of the Code of Ethics

1. Jurisdiction

(a) COPE shall have jurisdiction to receive and determine any timely complaint of the violation of the MSSA Code of Ethics by a current member of MSSA in any category of membership or conference participant. In the event that a complainee resigns from MSSA subsequent to the filing of a complaint against him or her, COPE shall have discretion to resolve the complaint as if the complainee were still a member.

(b) In the event that a complaint alleges conduct which is, or may be, the subject of other legal or institutional proceedings, COPE may, in its discretion, defer further proceedings with respect to the complaint until the conclusion of the other legal or institutional proceedings.

2. Filing of Complaint

(a) Any member or nonmember of MSSA who perceives that an MSSA member or conference participant has violated an ethical standard may file a complaint with COPE.

(b) A complaint may be initiated by COPE on its own behalf.

(c) Initial telephone contact with the President or his/her designee is encouraged to clarify whether concerns about a possible ethical violation are covered by the CODE. If it appears that a potential complaint may be covered by the Code, a copy of the Code and a complaint form shall be sent to the potential complainant. Informal dispute resolution and use of other venues of investigation will be encouraged.

(d) A complaint may not be accepted or initiated if it is received more than 18 months after the alleged conduct either occurred or was discovered. A complaint received after the 18-month time limit set forth in this paragraph shall not be accepted unless the Chair of COPE determines that there is good cause for the complaint not to have been filed within the 18-month time limit. No complaint will be considered if it is received more than five years after the alleged conduct occurred or was discovered.

(e) A complaint shall include the name and address of the complainant; the name and address of the complainee; the provisions of the Code of Ethics alleged to have been violated; a statement that other legal or institutional proceedings involving the alleged conduct have not been initiated or, if initiated, the status of such proceedings; a full statement of conduct alleged to have violated the Cope of Ethics, including the sources of all information on which the allegations are based; copies of any documents supporting the allegations; and, if necessary, a request that the 18-month time limit be waived. Anonymous complaints shall not be accepted. If material in the public domain is provided anonymously, COPE may choose to use such material in support of it own complaint.

3. Preliminary Screening of Complaint

(a) The President of MSSA or her/his designee shall screen each complaint to determine whether the complainee is a member of MSSA or a conference participant, and whether the alleged conduct is covered by the Code. If the complaint does not include the information required by 2(e), the President or his/her designee shall so inform the complainant, who will be given the opportunity to provide additional information. If no response is received from the complainant within 30 days, the matter will be closed and the complainant so notified.

(b) If the complaint is complete as set forth in 2(e), the President or her/his designee shall notify the Chair of COPE and provide relevant materials regarding the complain. The Chair of COPE and the President or his/her designee shall evaluate whether there is cause for action by COPE. Cause for action shall exist when the complainee’s alleged actions and/or omission, if substantiated, would in the judgment of the Chair of COPE and the President or her/his designee constitute a breach of ethics. For purposes of determining whether cause for action exists, incredible, speculative, and/or internally inconsistent allegations may be disregarded. If cause for action exists, a formal case is initiated, as set forth in 4(a). If cause for action does not exist, the complaint will be dismissed at this stage and the complainant so notified.

4. Notice of Complaint and Informal Resolution

(a) If cause for action is found, the President or his/her designee shall provide a copy of the complaint and all supporting materials, and a copy of the Code of Ethics and these Policies and Procedures, to the complainee and encourage a settlement through informal means. If a method of informal dispute settlement is not otherwise available to the complainant and complainee, a mediator who is not a member of COPE may be recommended by the President or her/his designee. Mediation services will in most cases be by written correspondence or telephone. If informal dispute resolution is declined, the members of COPE shall not be informed which party declined.

(b) Any person appointed to serve as a mediator shall agree to maintain the confidentiality of the proceedings as set forth in the Cope of Ethics and these Policies and Procedures. The mediator shall report to the President or his/her designee only whether or not a matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.

5. Response to Complaint

If either or both the complainant and complainee decline informal dispute settlement or if informal dispute settlement fails to resolve the complaint, the President or her/his designee shall notify the complainee that the case will go forward in accordance with these Policies and Procedures. Complainee shall have 30 days after receipt of this notice to respond in writing to the complaint. An extension may be granted by the President if good cause is shown, but the extension shall not exceed 90 days.

6. Initial Determination of the Chair

The complaint and response shall be submitted to the Chair of COPE for an initial determination whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the case. The Chair may, in her/his discretion, request additional information from the complainant and/or any other appropriate source before making the initial determination, provided, however, that the Chair shall not rely on such additional information unless it has been shared with the complainee, and the complainee has been afforded an opportunity to respond. If the Chair shall decide that there is insufficient evidence to proceed, the matter shall be closed and the complainant and complainee notified in writing.

7. Investigation and Recommendation

If the Chair determines that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the complaint, he/she shall appoint an Investigation Panel composed of the Chair or CO-Chair and at least two other members of COPE to investigate the complaint. The Panel may communicate with the complainant, complainee, witnesses, or other sources of information necessary to carry out its functions. The Panel shall conduct as much of its business as is practical through written correspondence or verbal communication. Although complainants and complainees have the right to consult with attorneys concerning all phases of the ethics process, the complainant must file and the complainee must respond to charges of unethical conduct personally and not through legal counsel or another third part, unless the complainant or complainee provides good cause as to why she or he cannot respond personally. The Panel shall submit a written report of its findings and any recommendation for sanction to the full Committee within ninety (90) days, unless a longer period is necessary in the opinion of the Chair or CO-Chair. A copy of the Panel’s findings and recommendation shall be provided to the complainant and complainee, who may submit a response in writing within a time frame of not more than 30 days.

8. Determination of Violation

COPE shall determine whether a violation of the Code of Ethics has occurred on the basis of the complaint, the response, any other information provided to the Investigation Panel the recommendation and findings of the Panel, and the responses of the parties thereto, provided, however, that COPE may hear the testimony of witnesses where in its view it is essential to the fairness of the proceeding. COPE may return any matter to the Investigation Panel for further investigation. Upon completion of its review, COPE shall issue a determination of whether one or more violations of the Code of Ethics have occurred, including a summary of the factual basis for this determination, and of the appropriate sanction.

9. Sanctions

In any case in which it has determined that a violation of the Code of Ethics has been substantiated, COPE may impose no sanction or one or more of the following, as appropriate:

(a) Private Reprimand. In cases where there has been an ethics violation but the violation did not cause serious personal and/or professional harm, an educative letter concerning the violation, including any stipulated conditions of redress, may be sent to the complainee. Failure to comply with stipulated conditions of redress in a reprimand may result in the imposition of a more severe sanction.

(b) Public Reprimand. Where COPE determines that the seriousness of the violation warrants more than a private reprimand, it may direct that a copy of the letter of reprimand be made public in an appropriate manner.

(c) Denial of Privileges. In appropriate cases, COPE may determine that a complainee shall be denied one or more of the privileges of MSSA membership and/or the opportunity to participate in MSSA sponsored activities including but not limited to appointment to the editorial board of Sociological Spectrum, election or appointment to any MSSA office or committee, receipt of any MSSA awards, publishing in or serving as editor of Sociological Spectrum, presenting a paper or otherwise participating at the annual meeting of MSSA, or receiving research or scholarship assistance from any program sponsored by MSSA.

(d) Termination of Membership. In cases where there has been an ethics violation and the violation caused serious personal and/or professional harm, the MSSA membership of the complainee may be terminated for a period to be determined by COPE. Eligibility to renew membership at the expiration of this period may be automatic or may be conditioned on a future determination by COPE that eligibility is appropriate.

10. Notice of Determination

The Chair of COPE shall notify the complainant and complainee of the decision of COPE. If a sanction is imposed under 9(c) or 9(d), COPE shall instruct the President to take the appropriate actions called for under COPE’s determination, except that such notice shall be postponed if an appeal is filed as set forth in paragraph 11.

11. Appeal of Termination

A complainee who is found by COPE to have violated the Code of Ethics and who receives a sanction under 9(b) through 9(d) may appeal this determination by filing a Notice of Appeal and Statement of Reasons no later than thirty (30) days after receipt of the Notice of Determination. If an appeal is filed, the President of MSSA shall appoint a three-member Appeal Panel of past members of COPE (or past Executive Officers of MSSA if insufficient time has passed since establishment of the original COPE) to review all information considered by COPE and, within 90 days, make a decision to uphold or reverse the determination. The Appeal Panel may set aside COPE’s determination that a violation has been substantiated or it may determine that the sanction imposed by COPE is not appropriate and impose a less severe sanction. The decision of the Appeal Panel shall constitute the final decision of MSSA with respect to all matters subject to this paragraph.

12. Confidentiality

(a) The filing of a complaint against an MSSA member or conference participant and all proceedings held under this Part III shall be kept confidential by COPE, the Investigation Panel, the Appeal Panel and the President of MSSA prior to a final determination of the matter, except that information regarding complaints may be shared with any staff designated by the President to assist COPE and MSSA legal counsel. Determinations of violations of the Code of Ethics by COPE or by an Appeal Panel shall be kept confidential, except in the case of termination of membership, or unless disclosure of the determination to the public is imposed as part of another sanction. The name of each individual whose membership is terminated and a brief statement of the reason for termination shall be reported annually to the MSSA Council and in the newsletter of MSSA, The Forum.

(b) The committee may disclose such information when compelled by a valid subpoena or by a final court order.

(c) Notwithstanding the foregoing, COPE may publish reports of its determination s in order to educate the membership about the requirements of the Code of Ethics, but not make the identity of the parties public unless otherwise provided for in Part III, section 12(b).

(d) Initiation of legal action against the MSSA or its officers or employees shall constitute a waiver of confidentiality by the person initiating such action.

(e) Records relating to the investigation of complaints of violations of the Code, whether or not COPE determined that a violation was substantiated, shall be maintained in a secure place indefinitely. These records should always remain confidential, unless otherwise provided for in 12(b) and 12 (d). Permission to use these materials for research and educational purposes may be granted by the President within the first 50 years of the closing of the complaint, as long as the materials do not identify the individuals involved. After 50 years, these materials are available for research or educational purposes without special approval as long as the commitment to confidentiality is honored and the materials do not identify the individuals involved.

Contact MSSA:
Theresa Davidson, President