Comment on the AEA Code of Professional Conduct and Interim Report

From the AEA Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession (CSMGEP)

March 8, 2018

CSMGEP was established by the AEA in 1968 to increase the representation of minorities in the economics profession, primarily by broadening opportunities for the training of underrepresented minorities. We also work to ensure that issues related to the representation of minorities are considered in the work of the AEA, and it is in that capacity that we write this comment.

We applaud the AEA’s decision to establish a code of professional conduct. We agree that, to be effective in supporting the AEA’s mission, the code must i) explicitly acknowledge both the goal of creating a “professional environment with equal opportunity” and our individual and collective responsibility to support “participation and advancement in the economics profession by individuals from diverse backgrounds” and ii) be backed by new AEA activities.

We offer the following recommendations to comment on and add to the list of activities provided in the Interim Report.

  1. Be even more attentive to the diversity of the Executive Committee with respect to race. The voices of minority economists have long been absent from the leadership and design of the organization.
  2. Establish a permanent committee with a charge to create a more inclusive environment in the economics profession. This new committee would direct activities that complement CSWEP and CSMGEP pipeline initiatives, such as establishing and disseminating best practices in professional conduct.[1]
  3. Enlist economists from across the profession. While women and minority economists may be in a better position to identify problems, we do not have the power to fix them. Moreover, the AEA must avoid increasing the tax on women and minorities in the field with even more committee work that has arisen due to sexism and racism in our field.
  4. Attack the subtle and ubiquitous barriers to broad participation in the profession. While it is important to prevent openly hostile behavior, it is equally important to address individual biases and the culture of the profession, which generate inequity and inefficiency through day-to-day activities such as refereeing, hiring, selecting leadership, and seminar presentations.
  5. Build support for existing CSMGEP research, publications, and programs. CSMGEP offers an array of impressive ASSA sessions, our annual newsletter The Minority Report, and pipeline programs (the Mentoring Program, the Summer Training Program, and the Summer Economics Training Program), which most members of the profession do not access.
  6. Make rectifying racial disparities in the profession a priority. The underrepresentation of minority economists is severe. For example, in 2015 only 47 black economists were on the faculties of 127 PhD-granting economics departments in the United States, and seven of those black economists were employed at Howard University, a historically black university.[2] Similarly, just 3.8 percent of full-time faculty in U.S. economics departments are Hispanic despite Latinos accounting for 17.6 percent of the nation’s population.[3]

[1] "The underrepresentation of women and minority economists is a problem that belongs to every member of the association, in terms of causes and consequences. The AEA can complement existing pipeline initiatives with interventions that provide guidance and training to all its members. The association can coordinate and fund workshops, pilot programs, and research projects and can lead economists and university departments to take concrete steps such as those outlined above. More generally, the association can borrow proven strategies from other professions, such as business and some of the STEM fields, which have successfully improved representation." See Bayer and Wilcox (2017).

[2] See Price and Sharpe (2017).

[3] See the estimate, based on UAQ survey data, in Table 6 of the 2016 CSMGEP Report.