Friday, July 13, 2018

[492] MTSU geoscientists insist on integrity, civility in new workplace code of conduct

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — An MTSU department is heeding the call for greater civility and decency in the workplace and in academia.

Using the American Geophysical Union’s ethics code as a guide, the MTSU Department of Geosciences has fashioned its own code of conduct for faculty, staff and students.

The move toward a departmental code of conduct precedes the issuance of a new report finding that 58 percent of women in academia have been sexually harassed. The report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also finds that harassment is worst in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields.

“Regardless of who is instigating a problem, the department wants to take that seriously and wants to address that,” geosciences assistant professor Jeremy Aber said.

The department code addresses topics such as reporting irresponsible practices, including taking credit for a colleague’s research; stewardship of the earth; adherence to laws and regulations; and acknowledgment of colleagues’ achievements.

The American Geophysical Union is a professional organization that defines its mission as promoting “discovery in earth and space science for the benefit of humanity,” according to

In September 2017, it issued its Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics handbook, which defines harassment, bullying and discrimination as scientific misconduct and states consequences for failure to adhere to the guidelines.

Led by Aber, the MTSU Department of Geosciences adapted its code from the AGU handbook, tweaking it to make it more pertinent to specific departmental circumstances with input from faculty and staff. The existing version was approved March 16, 2018.

Separate sections of the departmental code address the student-advisor relationship and harassment, bullying and discrimination. Bullying is defined as “the use of force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others in the professional environment that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

“These actions can include abusive criticism, humiliation, the spreading of rumors, physical and verbal attacks, isolation, undermining and professional exclusion of individuals through any means.”

Aber has suggested putting a link to the code on students’ syllabi so that they may familiarize themselves with it. The code is available at

While the departmental code does not spell out specific consequences for violators, it emphasizes that misbehavior should be reported and addressed “including, but not limited to, sanctions or expulsion as allowed by MTSU policy.”

Aber said the code applies not only to classroom or on-campus behavior, but also to behavior on field trips and study-abroad trips involving departmental faculty, staff or students.

“These things are deeply important in a way that, if we don’t take them seriously, will erode the trust that the public has in us,” Aber said. “It erodes the value of what we’re providing in terms of the educational experience. It devalues the degree.”

For more information, contact Aber at 615-898-2726 or

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