Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct (CEPC)
SAA Annual Meeting Minutes
Wednesday, August 3, 2006
Present: Susan Davis (Acting Chair), Rand Jimerson, Joanne Kaczmarek, Teresa Mora, Fernanda Perrone, Shannon Supple
Discussion with Richard Pearce-Moses and Nancy Beaumont:
Richard Pearce-Moses (RPM), SAA President, and Nancy Beaumont (NB), SAA Executive Director, met with the committee for the first part of the discussion on the committee’s mandate and scope and the status of its recent work on guidelines for professional conduct. RPM and NB reviewed what had transpired with the draft guidelines on Collecting Policies and Competition for Collections that CEPC had developed last year as a sample for discussion by Council and review by SAA legal counsel. Council discussed the document in January and referred it to legal counsel, who did not respond until just before the May Council meeting. The attorney basically rejected what CEPC had drafted because she felt SAA could not advise that archivists avoid competition, as that stance was in potential violation of anti-trust laws. SAA could be left open to potential lawsuit. This response arrived too late for Council to discuss in May so Council would not have specific guidance for CEPC until after its next meeting in late October or early November. At this point options for CEPC appeared to be either focusing on another area that might be less controversial or postponing any discussion until after Council meets next. In addition, a different attorney might respond differently to these documents.
CEPC members discussed with RPM and NB the future of the committee. Is there any role for the committee until the Code of Ethics requires revision once again? Should there be a standing committee or should Council merely create a Task Force when necessary? The title of the committee includes the words “professional conduct,” yet Council did not appear to be enthusiastic about CEPC continuing to develop guidelines in this area. Given the annual turnover in Council, it is often difficult to sustain interest in and understanding of long term activity over time. It was reiterated that CEPC drafted the new Code of Ethics with the understanding that guidelines for professional conduct and institutional best practice would follow, in order to cover the ground of the previous guidelines in a less prescriptive fashion. The new Code is aspirational but also fairly skeletal as CEPC had decided that much of what the previous Code contained fell into the categories of professional conduct or institutional best practice, rather than pure ethics.
RPM and NB said that Council did not wish CEPC to disappear, but the next steps were not very clear. What should be the committee’s scope and title? Does Council still want the additional documents that “flesh out” the Code of Ethics?
It was suggested that CEPC draft a one page document describing the limits of an aspirational code. Can we learn anything additional from other codes such as the ARMA Code of Professional Conduct. What does it mean if SAA has an aspirational code and no way to adjudicate disputes? New CEPC member Shannon Supple, who has a law degree, will do some research in this area.
The discussion was then tabled so RPM could present the draft Native American protocol. Karen Underhill was unable to join the meeting but provided the document and URL http://www2.nau.edu/libnap-p/
This protocol should provide guidance to non-tribal archives holding Native American materials. CEPC members are asked to read the document and provide feedback. We can each respond to Karen Underhill individually or send comments to Karen Benedict, CEPC Chair for 2006-2007 for her to relay to Karen Underhill. RPM is to clarify whether this document is intended as a replacement for John Fleckner’s Tribal Archives manual.
Susan Davis also informed the group that the Code of Ethics had been used in a federal bankruptcy case in California to support a plan to preserve the records of a major law firm that represented many DotCom clients. Her declaration, filed as part of the case, indicated that the proposed “Dark Archive” was consistent with professional guidelines and the SAA Code of Ethics. Details of the court case are below. This will be an interest case for the profession and CEPC to follow as they continue to deal with issues such as access to lawyer/client files.
US Bankruptcy Court
Northern District of California
San Francisco Division
Case No. 03-32715-DM7
Chapter No 7
July 18, 2006
Courtroom 22, 235 Pine St.
Hon. Dennis Montali
[Declaration of Susan E. Davis, PhD, in Support of Trustee’s Motion for Order Approving Abandonment of Digital Records]
Continued Discussion on Guidelines and CEPC Mandate:
After NB and RPM left, committee members continued to discuss the future of CEPC. The consensus was that CEPC serves an important role and should continue to exist. We should suggest to Council some ideas for what the committee might do. SAA provides a lot of information in publications and on the website, and CEPC should be able to weigh in on relevant areas. One suggestion was to update Karen Benedict’s book with the current Code and more of a history of the evolution of SAA’s work on ethics. Perhaps the case studies could be structured and introduced in such a way as to cover some of the ground intended for the professional conduct guidelines. In other words, there may be other avenues for CEPC to disseminate similar information as the guidelines for professional conduct, but in ways that would present fewer problems for SAA legal counsel.
In some respects CEPC serves as the conscience of SAA. We should focus on issues that are percolating within the profession that have ethical implications for what we do. This may mean that we are responsible for documents produced by the committee or that we have input into documents produced by others. In any case we need to provide a response to SAA for their fall meeting so that they take our concerns into consideration along with the opinion of SAA legal counsel.