Note: The LSA welcomes member comments on this policy via the facility located at the bottom of this page. Members must be logged-in to the website in order to submit your comments. If you wish to provide comments in confidence, please contact LSA Executive Director Alyson Reed.

 

The LSA annual meetings, Linguistic Institutes, and other LSA-sponsored events are convened for the purposes of professional development and scholarly and educational interchange in the spirit of free inquiry and free expression. Consequently, all forms of incivility and harassment are considered by the LSA to be serious forms of professional misconduct.

The following Civility Policy outlines expectations for all those who attend or participate in LSA events.  It reminds LSA participants that all professional academic ethics and norms apply as standards of behavior and interaction at these events.    

1. Purpose    

The LSA is committed to providing a safe and welcoming conference environment, protecting our community’s rich diversity of age, ethnicity, gender, disability, professional status, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

“Participant” in this policy refers to anyone present at LSA events, including staff, contractors, vendors, exhibitors, venue staff, LSA members, and all other attendees.

2. Expected Behavior

All participants at LSA events are expected to abide by this Civility Policy in all venues including ancillary events and official and unofficial social gatherings, and to abide by the norms of professional respect that are necessary to promote the conditions for free academic interchange.

Participants who witness potential harm to another conference participant are encouraged to be proactive in helping to mitigate or avoid that harm.  

3. Unacceptable Behavior   

Unacceptable behaviors include:   

  • Coercive, intimidating, harassing, abusive, derogatory or demeaning actions or speech . Note that the latter is distinct from vigorous, reasoned disagreement compatible with norms of civil behavior.
  • Prejudicial actions or comments, related to a person’s identity or group membership,  that coerce others, foment broad hostility, or otherwise undermine professional equity or the principles of free academic exchange. Relevant identities include (but are not limited to) those defined by age, ethnicity, gender, disability, professional status, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.
  • Persistent and unwelcome physical contact or solicitation of emotional, sexual or other physical intimacy, including stalking.

Adopted by the LSA Executive Committee, December 18, 2017
  

Comments

The LSA welcomes member comments on its Civility Policy.

I am surprised by this Civility Policy. I don't remember having witnessed any uncivil behavior worth mentioning at LSA meetings, except maybe a shouting match between two great linguists (in 1969?)!

I entered grad school as the Generative Semantics wars were dying down. That rather extreme period in the field did not prompt LSA to implement a Civility Policy and I have observed nothing in ensuing years approaching that level of fractiousness. So why are we implementing this now? And why does "Persistent and unwelcome physical contact or solicitation of emotional, sexual or other physical intimacy, including stalking" fall under the category of "incivility"? It seems to me this is simply unprofessional conduct.

I also think it would be helpful to know what the context is for this proposal. I can see potential problems in reconciling the "norms of civil behavior" of two parties, given how broad the catchment for the LSA membership is.

Assuming there is a demonstrable need for a civility policy within the world of linguistics, I have a couple of questions. Are the behaviors listed under the third bullet point in (3) not in fact illegal in most states (and in many cases the second bullet point too)? Isn't it a little odd for a professional society to be weighing in on matters that are already law? I can see that the first bullet point relates to professional conduct – if the speech or action is circumscribed to that taking place in professional spaces (LSA surely can't tell people how to talk or act in their non-linguistics lives, though as this is drafted, in principle it could apply to any speech or action). What do the Society's lawyers advise about this?

Finally, the use of "latter" in the first bullet point of item (3) doesn't make sense to me. It could refer to "demeaning speech", "demeaning actions or speech". I suspect what's intended is something like "Coercive ... speech, where this is distinct from vigorous ... [etc.]".

The only incivility I've seen (unnecessarily harsh comments) was at BUCLD. I agree with a previous commenter that sexual harassment is not a kind of incivility, and is already covered by other laws/policies.

Many of the comments to this point are of the "I haven't seen a need for this, so there is no need for this" variety. I'd suggest that we need to beware of falling into an observation bias trap—really, just because any one individual LSA member hasn't seen a problem can't be taken as evidence that there isn't a problem.

For my part, I can say that I've only directly seen any sort of overt racial/ethnic/sexual harassment (that I recognized as such) at an LSA-sponsored event once. However, I have seen a number of small-scale things that may well have been such harassment, but where I didn't have enough information to know for certain. Also, I'm a white male, and thus much less likely to have such harassment directed at me—but I have heard from a number of other linguists about the harassment (sometimes subtle, sometimes overt) that they've been subjected to. It's out there, and it may not be at the point that it's obvious to absolutely everybody, but that just means that (a) it's at a level that we can correct it now if we act, but (b) it's an insidious problem, and so needs to be rooted out and stopped.

At least as far as my own post was concerned, it wasn’t of the “I haven’t seen this, so there is no need for this” variety. It was of the “I haven’t seen this; what is the motivation for the policy?” variety, with no presupposition one way or the other. Plausibly the LSA had conducted a survey, or had received reports through one or more committees indicating presence of a widespread problem within the profession that merited a formal policy. So far, I haven’t seen that kind of discussion, or anything beyond anecdotes. Perhaps the LSA is preparing to circulate such data. In the meantime I myself don’t know how insidious or widespread a problem it is, or how much is going on beneath the surface.

Who could be against civility? (Well, I can name a few, but mostly non-linguists...) My concerns are two. First, I just prefer fewer regulations and policies, but if they are needed, then they should be clear - and observed, not just there for window dressing. So I'm finding myself at least somewhat in agreement with those who have questioned the need for this. I only got in on the last couple minutes of the organized discussion at LSA in January; if there is a summary or report of this, can you let us know where to find it? That may answer the question of the need for this.

Second, even though the language under point 3 is clear that "derogatory or demeaning actions or speech...is distinct from vigorous, reasoned disagreement compatible with norms of civil behavior," I wonder if this may yet have a dampening effect on expressing unpopular views (as seems to be increasing on a fair number of university campuses these days).

Finally, I mourn the loss of an accepted cultural norm of civility. When people's internal moral compasses are lost, then external coercion is the only alternative.

“Who could be against civility?’
Who could be against politeness? Does it follow one should have policies defining it and requiring its practice?
I agree with your first point that regulations and policies should only be implemented when they are needed, and when that need has been demonstrated.
Regarding your second point, I would ask, who is going to judge breaches of a formal LSA Civility policy and what are to be the punishments? Loss of membership? Formal censure? Once one has a stated policy, one must develop responses to breach of policy. Do we, as an organization want to go there?
Regarding your third point, John Adams remarks somewhere that our Constitution was made only for an (already) moral people - that it was and is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. In other words it presupposes a just and moral people; it does not (and could not hope to) create one. I take this to be a key point of your final line, although I do not agree that coercion is an alternative.

I'm glad that there are LSA members for whom harassment and incivility is not part of their everyday experience. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many of our members, particularly junior members, women, and people of color, who should be able to participate in LSA activities without being the targets of bullying, intimidation, and harassment. It's very visible, once we stop pretending it isn't there. It would be great if we all both agreed that uncivil, derogatory, harassing or bullying behavior was out of place in professional societies and meetings. Yet it goes on, and the people who are the targets of such behavior often cannot call it out without retaliation.

The recent NASEM report on harassment in the sciences, engineering, and medicine, mentions the strong role that professional societies can (and should) play in addressing uncivil behavior, since they are both important for future careers and all too often a place where harassing and bullying behavior goes unchecked.

In short, we need this policy, and we also need a lot more.

Report link: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24994/sexual-harassment-of-women-climate-cul...

I see a couple of comments that suggest that if we need this policy at all, it is evidence of some sad departure from a previous era when civility and ethical conduct were the norm, and no policy was necessary. But that's not how I understand the situation. Instead, the problem has been that certain kinds of bullying (etc) behavior just weren't seen as problematic in the past, and those who suffered as a result of them had no recourse to a remedy. I support this policy as one step in the right direction - but agree that it should not be the only step.

In fact, my own experience from the 70s and 80s was that LSA meetings (and meetings generally) used to be much *more* fractious and contentious - less civil, if you will - than they are now. You write: "the problem has been that certain kinds of bullying (etc) behavior just weren't seen as problematic in the past, and those who suffered as a result of them had no recourse to a remedy." Could you be more specific about what you are referring to? By your lights, precisely what kinds of behavior weren't formerly seen as problematic but should have been, and should be now? No one so far in this thread has cited anything beyond vague generalities.
On a related point, the NASEM report that Claire notes cautions specifically against "symbolic" actions - broad statements like those employed by universities that reduce legal exposure and make administrations feel they are doing something, but which achieve little if anything in fact. Policies that everyone can agree on are typically of this symbolic character. They are agreed upon because they don't threaten anyone. They don't really achieve anything either, hence (I assume) your final point about a CP not being enough.

I agree with Claire that this is an important first step.

I'm seeing a lot of questions as to "why now", I think this can be answered in two parts: (1) if the the Society failed to act during a period of greater incivility, that does not mean to me that the Society should not rectify that now. We should beholden to decisions of the past. (2) there have been recent and well documented cases of problematic behavior from well regarded folks in closely aligned fields (the Rochester case, John Searle, etc.), where there were also questions about the home institution responses.

This policy allows the LSA to be proactive, not reactive and that seems quite welcome.

I agree with Claire and Amy that the civility policy is a very good step. Despite the general good will of most linguists and despite a lot of awareness in some sub-communities, there are people at LSA (and other linguistic) events who are made to feel marginalized, disrespected, and sometimes even threatened by conduct that we can all try to avoid and call out, and should all want to see less of. Within academic departments, I've seen progress along these lines happen as a result of a stronger sense of community and mutual respect; in the much bigger and less well-connected context of a conference or summer school, it may take more work to build the same sense, but it would benefit us all.

Hearing from those who have experienced incivility or witnessed it, I can see that a statement such as this is a useful position to take. While it would of course be ideal to have a statistical study of incivility within LSA, anecdotal evidence is still evidence. The underlying philosophy behind this, though not explicitly stated, is that all humans have inherent worth and dignity, and should be treated as having such.
The only "wondering" I have is what concrete effect this will have. I would hope that it has some actual impact, rather than being purely symbolic. The statement says LSAers should be "proactive in helping to mitigate or avoid [any] harm." Perhaps this will encourage all of us to call out incivility when it happens (hopefully, in a civil way ourselves...), and incidents like Claire and others have reported will become vanishingly rare.

I also just received various examples of behavior by email that I agree are highly unacceptable and need to be dealt with. Mostly they were examples of sexual harassment, or disparagement, of women.
Frankly, I think that it would be helpful for such examples to be included explicitly in the Civility Policy. "Examples of unacceptable behavior include: ..." It would be a way of indicating that such behaviors are being explicitly observed and noted, i.e., 'you are not getting away with this.'"
Thanks very much for the clarifications. In the 70's we had what I would regard as genuine incivility (as opposed to harassment). I mean faculty shouting at each other, swearing at each other, calling each other "a**holes", etc. What's being discussed here under "incivility" is something quite different.

I also feel we do need a policy like this, for the reasons listed above. Yes, sexual harassment happens in our field, and racism and negative behavior against LGBTQ people do too. Beyond that, incivility between people who disagree about theory may have decreased greatly since the 1970's, but it can certainly still happen. It is better that the LSA put a policy in place to forbid and discourage such behavior ahead of time than that the organization have to develop one after an incident.

I understand the policy.