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My Complaint Against the ACM

A leading technological society condones employment
discrimination against some of its own members.

Copyright © 2001-2003 by David E. Ross

§1.4 Be fair and take action not to discriminate.

The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of ACM policy and will not be tolerated.

Inequities between different groups of people may result from the use or misuse of information and technology. In a fair society, all individuals would have equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, the use of computer resources regardless of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin or other such similar factors. However, these ideals do not justify unauthorized use of computer resources nor do they provide an adequate basis for violation of any other ethical imperatives of this code.

ACM Code of Ethics
(emphasis added)


For almost 37 years, I have been a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which calls itself "The First Society in Computing". Characterizing itself not as a professional society but as "the world's oldest and largest educational and scientific computing society", the ACM nevertheless has many of the characteristics of a professional society. Either alone or in partnership with professional societies, the ACM


The ACM also publishes a number of periodicals. Every month, each member receives Communications of the ACM (CACM) as a benefit of membership. CACM contains news articles about computer technology, comments from members, and research papers. Towards the back of every issue of CACM, there is "Career Opportunities", help-wanted ads for computer professionals. "Career Opportunities" focuses primarily on academic positions, ads from colleges and universities seeking professors and instructors. However, there are always a few ads for practicing professionals (which I am), ads from industrial and service companies.

The Problem

In most issues of CACM, there is at least one "Career Opportunities" ad that indicates a qualification unrelated to a person's education, training, experience, and talent — a religious qualification that is irrelevant to a person's ability to teach or lead research in computer science. Those ads are too polite to say explicitly: "No Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists should apply." But how else would you interpret the statement: "Candidates must have a religious commitment compatible with our evangelical Christian mission"?

The ad for a major university declared: "Applications must include a statement demonstrating an active Christian faith." The ad indicates the denomination that controls this school, a church that not only asserts Jews have value only for purposes of conversion to Christianity but also that women must always be subservient to men. Will this school allow a woman to judge men, a female instructor to grade the scholastic efforts of male students? The church also condemns gays as abominations who will burn forever in Hell. This ad is an affront to the Jews, women, and gays who are members of the ACM.

In the October 2001 CACM, I saw one such ad. In the next issue, I saw three. That December, I saw four, including one in which the applicant was required to provide "names of four references (including your pastor)" (but not the name of a rabbi or imam). All of these discriminatory ads were placed by U.S. institutions of higher learning.

The very first ad in the May 2002 "Career Opportunities" states:

Candidates must have a religious commitment comparable with the mission of this evangelical Christian univ. Submit letter addressing qual, curriculum vitae, and one-page statement of philosophy of Christian higher education …

Here is part of an ad that appeared in the December 2002 issue of CACM:

Developing disciples and scholars since 1899, XXX is a comprehensive university, dedicated to supporting God First and excellence in higher education, and making a positive impact on society. XXX offers more than 40 areas of undergraduate study, 19 master's degree programs, and 4 doctorates. As an evangelical Christian institution, XXX affirms the supremacy of Christ in all areas of life and expects its employees to model Christian values in their Christian faith verbally and in writing.

Just don't bother applying if you are Jewish, atheist, Moslem, or Buddhist, the religious characteristics of some of those ACM members whose dues paid for publishing the issue of CACM that carried this ad.

And from two ads that appeared in the February 2003 issue:

Must be committed to the educational mission and evangelical Christian orientation of the college …
XXX College exists to serve Christ, the church, and the community, locally and globally by providing excellent opportunities for higher education in biblical studies, arts and sciences and selected professions in an environment that fosters Christian faith …

A third college skirted the issue by placing an innocuous ad in the February 2003 issue. However, the ad contained a reference the college's Web site, which contained the following:

Faculty of historic Christian faith, from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, are welcome and find a warm professional and personal home at XXX.

… this [essay required with employment application] is intended to be a personal, authentic statement in your own words about your interest in joining this "community of Christian scholars."

Many ads contain references to Web sites. I found the above after checking only two. I am quite sure there are others.

NOTE: My 41-year career with computers is as a practitioner — over 34 years as a software test engineer — and not as an educator, which is the target of most "Career Opportunities" ads in CACM and the target of all of the discriminatory ads. Furthermore, I am now retired; so I am not really interested in seeking new employment. Therefore, I do not read the "Career Opportunities" ads in every issue. There might indeed have been discriminatory ads in the months I do not mention above.

My Complaint

Am I the only member of the ACM who is outraged that our own monthly publication contains ads for positions where there is religious discrimination against a significant number of our own members? The fact that I am not seeking employment through these ads does little to mitigate how offensive they are. Yes, there are only 1-3 such ads in an issue of CACM; in some months, there might be none at all. However, even a little discrimination is still too much. Otherwise, where would you draw the line between acceptably small and unacceptably large?

*** Start Sidebar ***

Recently, I again brought this issue to the attention of members of the ACM Council, the Association's governing board. One Council member informed me that further E-mail from me will be treated as spam! Another Council member replied that the ACM's attorneys claim the advertising policy is legal [see the text to the left]. No Council member addressed the inconsistency between the CACM advertising policy and the ACM Code of Ethics.

I have given up trying to persuade the Council, but I have not given up trying to fight discrimination. If you are a member of the ACM and feel half the outrage I feel, I urge you to contact at least two Council members and express your opposition to discriminatory ads in the CACM.

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I know that church-operated schools are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. Thus, such ads are legal. But why should the ACM hold itself to a standard that says: "If it's legal, it's okay"? This standard only leads to more laws being enacted. Our organization has the ability and right — and should have the will — to be better than merely what the law requires. And the Code of Ethics adopted for the ACM's members as "moral imperatives" should apply equally to the ACM's own operations, including §1.4 applying to the publication of CACM.

This is not a new situation. I started writing to the editors of CACM about this in 1993, and I have correspondence with the ACM's governing Council dating back to 1998. In my latest exchange of E-mail with members of the Council, two justifications were given for accepting these ads. First of all, I was told that refusing these ads would cut off information of potential positions to ACM members who do indeed meet the discriminatory religious qualifications. Then I was told that the advertising revenue is vital for meeting the costs of publishing CACM. For an organization that prides itself on a rigorous professional Code of Ethics, I find both justifications strange. We are told that we should support religious discrimination in order to benefit those who are not affected by that discrimination (turning §1.4 on its head), in a publication partially subsidized with dues from those who are affected. And we are told that money is more important than principle, so important that §1.4 must be ignored. I really do not know which justification is more odious.

Let church-affiliated institutions advertise in their own church's periodicals. Stop using my dues to subsidize publication of a periodical that contains ads that discriminate against my own religion. Stop publishing ads that insult my faith. Stop condoning religious discrimination. Even if it is legal, it is not right!

Religious institutions — including the schools they operate — do discriminate against those who follow other religions. The "free exercise" clause of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires an exemption for such institutions from laws prohibiting religious discrimination. However, the ACM must respect the diversity of beliefs of its members. The "First Society in Computing" is not a religious institution and should not condone religious discrimination in the pages of its Communications of the ACM.

I call upon other ACM members who share my concern to communicate directly with the members of the ACM Council. Not only should such ads be prohibited from all ACM publications, but ads without discriminatory phrasing should also be banned if the advertiser does indeed practice discrimination.

I received a letter from the President of the ACM, addressing my concerns. In her letter (viewable as a 90KB PDF file), President Klawe indicates a very tiny, tentative step towards addressing the problem. Soon the CACM will explicitly acknowledge that some "Career Opportunities" advertisements are indeed discriminatory. Perhaps, if enough members of the ACM actually read that statement, the ACM Council might eventually force ACM itself to act in accord with §1.4 of its own Code of Ethics.

However, one key statement in President Klawe's letter still suggests that the Council does not really understand the issue:

… it may not be the moral responsibility of the ACM to police non-ACM members or organizations and their ads.
I never requested the ACM to deal with the discriminatory employment practices of others. Indeed, all I wanted was that the ACM not deal with such practices. That is, I wanted the ACM to refrain from supporting such practices and to refuse to carry advertisements from those employers who do discriminate.

The overall tone of the letter indicates that the ACM Council remains unwilling to have the organization itself operate at the same ethical level that the Council expects of its membership. The Council will not end the hypocrisy; the Council merely chooses to make that hypocrisy public.

The September 2003 issue of CACM contains two career advertisements that clearly indicate only Christians should apply. The ACM Council just does not understand that — when they declare Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of ACM policy and will not be tolerated. — this policy must be enforced upon the ACM's own operations no less than it is enforced upon its membership. Since I am now retired, I have decided not to renew my membership of 37 years. I choose not to belong to a hypocritical organization.

The December 2003 issue of CACM (the last one before the lapse of my unrenewed membership) contains three career advertisements that clearly indicate religious bias in hiring. At least two additional advertisements referred the reader to the employers' Web sites, where again religious bias in hiring was indicated.

Good-bye ACM

21 December 2001
Revised 5 December 2003

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