Board Hits Refresh on Code of Ethics, Strengthens Member Engagement

For the first time in nearly 50 years, ASCE is pursuing a wholesale review of its Code of Ethics.

The time is right, ASCE President Robin A. Kemper said, to ensure that the code reflects the cultural shifts in society and technological changes in the industry.

“Through time, the Code of Ethics has been reworked, things have been added, maybe things have been taken out, but we’ve not looked at it as a whole since 1974,” Kemper said. “And a lot has changed in the world since the 1970s.”

The Task Committee on the Code of Ethics presented a plan for a more streamlined code to the ASCE Board of Direction at the quarterly Board meeting, July 12-13, in Reston, Virginia. The Board voted to support the task committee’s concept and general direction and is scheduled to receive the task committee’s final report at its October meeting.

The existing ASCE Code of Ethics is built on a canon model, including the oft-quoted first canon, “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public…”

The task committee’s approach emphasizes usability and enforceability, dispensing with the canons and instead creates a hierarchy of stakeholders within an engineer’s ethical responsibilities.

“I was very excited when I saw the approach they were taking,” Kemper said. “I think they are trying to capture what is needed for the 21st century, both in content and format.”

The task committee's proposed ethics concept.
The task committee’s proposed concept.

The Code of Ethics was but one of many items on the Board’s packed agenda. Other highlights include:

Budget approval

The Board voted to approve the Society budget for fiscal year 2020, with a charge to ASCE executive staff to bring a three-year budget plan to the October meeting for review, focusing both on increased membership and more efficient operations.

The budget included recommendations from the Task Committee on Revenue Generation that the Board approved earlier in the meeting. They are both short-term (increased investment in digitized ASCE publications, for example) and long-term plans (Future World Vision).

Forging new connections

The Board’s continued focus on member value and the pursuit of the Society’s goal that an ever-growing number of people in the civil engineering realm are members of, and engage in, ASCE guided the budget talks and meeting agenda overall.

The Board reviewed the ASCE Public Agency Peer Review program and voted to appoint a task force to do a deep dive on the potential creation of a Government Engineers Council. Akin to how the Industry Leaders Council has enhanced connections between ASCE and leaders in the profession, the Government Engineers Council could further develop membership bonds between the Society and civil engineers in the public sector.

>>> With an eye on continued student engagement, the Board approved the Task Committee on Student Conferences and Competitions’ vision and goals for Society-level student competitions, while creating a constituent committee to work on these competitions.

The task committee worked quickly last summer to create two new student competitions in time for the 2018-19 academic year. The ASCE Sustainable Solutions Competition and the ASCE Blue Sky Competitions Contest both enjoyed successful first years, culminating in national championships last month in Florida.

The plan for 2020 is to stage those competitions again (the Sustainable Solutions Challenge’s theme will be revised), along with concrete canoe and a new surveying competition that will conclude with a championship at a Utilities Engineering and Surveying Institute conference.

>>> The Board also heard from the Task Committee on Younger Member Board Engagement, as it looks to amplify the voices and views of ASCE’s 35-and-under members. The Board approved recommendations to require Board and Society standing committees, and their constituent committees, to include  at least one member age 35 and younger, add both Board of Direction at-large directors to the Committee on Younger Members, add a Younger Member as a voting member of the At-Large Director Review Panel, and allow the Younger Member Councils to submit nominees for the at-large director position.

“Younger Members want to be more engaged and more involved, and anything we can do to help is good,” Kemper said. “More work definitely needs to be done.”

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  1. I trust that more details will be provided and will be circulated for review and comment as a specific communication to the entire membership before approving changes to the Code of Ethics. There is little detail in the provided figure. It only mentions “core concepts”. Our Canons were thoughtfully and carefully crafted to form the basis of the pact through which our professional society interacts internally and externally. Merely saying that “[t]he task committee’s approach emphasizes usability and enforceability, dispensing with the canons and instead creates a hierarchy of stakeholders within an engineer’s ethical responsibilities” is clearly insufficient. How is this new model superior to the Canons? How is it more “usable” and “enforceable” than the Canons? These should be clear, and everyone should have a say.

  2. Yes, I agree with the previous comment. I see no reason to change the Code of Ethics. If you do, you should not do so without every member getting to vote on whether to change it or not.

  3. I’ve been in the engineering world for many decades – since 1972, so I’ve seen it all and dealt with it all. But it is time that all societies addressed how inappropriate comments (personal attacks or overt sexual language) are handled during conference calls and meetings, and how inappropriate advances are handled at face to face meetings. I haven’t had problems at ASCE, but providing steps if these things occur would be very helpful for younger engineers. It’s time.

  4. I have been promoting the civil engineers’ ethical and moral responsibilities vis-a-vis safety of the public. Many professional bodies in some countries have an “Ethics” paragraph in the certificates of memberships but neither is this impressed on the candidate nor brought in as part of (sometimes non-existent) training programmes.

    I believe that a fair evaluation using comments of all concerned is a good way to go ahead – if changes are indeed needed. A wide consultation, as suggested by many appears in order.

  5. Unless one concedes that Ethics have changed, I see no need to change the current Canons.
    An occasional clarification but on change.

  6. I must agree with the gentleman above. Since these Code of Ethics will apply to ALL members, a draft of the changed Code should be provided to members to review before a final Code is approved. A detailed description of the intended changes should be laid out and input from members should be solicited throughout the modification process.

  7. I concur with others who have stated that there is no need to make significant revisions to the Code of Ethics. However, consistent with many other professional documents, I believe it would be appropriate to add a commentary to the various canons, to include the valued work of the current review committee.

    Fred M. Nelson, P.E., S.E., F. ASCE and Region 8 Governor


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