Response to the Open Letter from CSForInclusion to the Committee of the ACM A.M. Turing Award and ACM

ACM promotes the exchange of ideas and freedom of thought and expression as central to the aims and goals of ACM. Achieving these goals requires an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and every group. ACM’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is explicit in ACM’s Core Values statement, in the efforts of the ACM Diversity and Inclusion Council, and in the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Even with the best of intentions, however, the processes in place may not always guarantee we explicitly consider these goals in every step or action ACM takes. When we become aware of the need to improve processes, we do it. The Statement on the Selection of Jeffrey Ullman for a Turing Award affords such an opportunity by raising two important issues for ACM regarding our commitment to core values and ethical and professional behavior in the ACM awards program. We address these issues below.

  1. Report on the specifics surrounding this nomination, especially the extent of checks and balances that are in place to ensure that the process of awarding the highest distinction in computing is protected against violations of the ACM mission and its core values.

    Response: ACM, the ACM Awards Committee Co-Chairs, and the ACM Turing committee members first became aware of the statements of Jeffrey Ullman when the social media discussion began after the 2020 A. M. Turing Award was announced. As part of the Awards process, ACM routinely checks whether we have received any complaints about award nominees with respect to ACM’s Code of Ethics or other policies. In this case, we determined that no complaints had ever been filed against Jeffrey Ullman. ACM also relied on the submitted nomination package and carefully evaluated the letters provided by the nominator and the endorsers to assess the candidate’s worthiness for an award. No red flags were raised in the nomination package.
  2. Clarity from ACM on establishing compliance with its core values, particularly on D & I standards, as an explicit criterion for receiving this award. If not, transparently state that behaviors that directly damage inclusivity and diversity in the computing field are not relevant in the criteria listed by ACM for this award.

    Response: The Selection Criteria  for the A.M. Turing Award emphasize technical achievement and lasting impact. ACM has already begun to design a process that explicitly takes ACM values into account in all award decisions. We will continue to check into the professional background of award nominees. Recognizing that ACM might not have access to all such information, we will enhance the nomination form beginning with the next ACM awards cycle later this year. Award Nominators and Endorsers will be required to indicate whether they know of any ACM Code of Ethics violations or behavior inconsistent with ACM values, and any positive responses will initiate further examination of the suitability of the candidate for the award. We will publish full details about this process for ACM awards before the next award cycle begins.

This response was issued on April 19, 2021.