AIA conducts review of Honors & Awards programs to foster highest professional standards

In an effort to promote the highest professional working standards throughout the profession, and among its members, AIA is launching a comprehensive review of the processes by which all Honors & Award recipients are selected.

AIA has selected Covington & Burling, LLP and its partner Eric Holder, Jr.—who previously served as the U.S. Attorney General—to conduct a comprehensive review of the association’s Honors & Awards programs, and College of Fellows candidate selection. Members of AIA’s Board of Directors and National Ethics Council will work with Mr. Holder and provide actionable recommendations for enhancing program processes, specifically around the vetting of candidates and addressing any allegations that may arise.

The member advisory group comprises the following individuals:

  • AIA 2019 President William Bates, FAIA;
  • First Vice President Jane Frederick, FAIA;
  • 2018-2020 At-large-Director Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA; and
  • 2019 National Ethics Council Chair Anzilla Gilmore, FAIA, NOMA.  

Although the rules and processes governing AIA’s awards programs are currently effective at identifying design excellence, the AIA’s leadership believes they can be improved to better address issues of professional character, especially related to harassment of any kind, and to send a clear message that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated in the profession.

For more than 160 years, the AIA has recognized great architects, and others for their work alone. The recipients that AIA member juries elevate through the association’s Honors & Awards programs are, and should be, the very best in the architecture profession. Going forward the AIA will also acknowledge the highest professional standards.  

The goals for this effort are:

  1. to ensure that the conduct of candidates for awards and for Fellowship has been consistent with the AIA Code of Ethics and the values of the profession; and
  2. to develop a thorough process for addressing allegations or other character issues should they arise.

AIA believes this next step in reviewing Honors & Awards and College of Fellows selection processes is necessary to further encourage a more diverse and inclusive profession.

Below is more detailed information about this important initiative of the Institute:

Why has AIA retained Covington & Burling, LLP?

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has retained Covington & Burling, LLP and its partner Eric Holder, Jr.—who previously served as the U.S. Attorney General—to lead an advisory group to conduct a comprehensive review of AIA’s Honors & Awards programs and provide actionable recommendations for enhancing program processes.

Ultimately, this is about ensuring that the profession’s culture honors the work and worth of everyone, and that the profession’s rhetoric and actions align with its values. AIA is taking this next step to make clear that harassment and discrimination have no place in this profession.

Although the rules and processes governing AIA’s awards programs are currently effective at identifying design excellence, the AIA’s leadership believes they can be improved to better address issues of professional character, especially related to harassment of any kind…when they arise, and to send a clear message that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated in the profession.

For more than 160 years, the AIA has recognized great architects, and others for their work alone. Going forward the AIA will also acknowledge the highest professional standards.  

AIA President Bill Bates has designated himself, as well as several AIA leaders to provide guidance and advice to Mr. Holder in this effort. Those individuals include Jane Frederick, FAIA, First Vice President and 2020 President elect; Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, At-Large Director, AIA Board of Directors; and Anzilla Gilmore, FAIA, Chair, AIA National Ethics Council.  

What happened to make AIA decide to hire Eric Holder and Covington & Burling, LLP?

This is about taking another step to change the culture of our profession. Like other organizations, AIA is reviewing its processes and programs to ensure they reflect today’s values and expectations.

AIA recognizes that harassment occurs within the profession, that it cannot be tolerated, and that the AIA must address instances of harassment thoroughly and in a timely manner, as it relates to Honor and Awards, and the College of Fellows candidates.

What is AIA doing to make sure it is elevating award recipients, and Fellows candidates who reflect the values of the profession?

Although the rules and processes governing AIA’s awards programs are currently effective at identifying design excellence, the AIA’s leadership believes they can be improved to better address issues of professional character, especially related to harassment of any kind…when they arise, and to send a clear message that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated in the profession.

Currently, nominees submitting applications for an award are required to affirm that neither they, nor their firm, have hired unpaid labor and that they have abided by pertinent provisions of the AIA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Nominees are expected to confirm their respect for human dignity, unbiased treatment of all people in employment, civic and business transactions regardless of race, gender identity, physical abilities or religion.

In addition, AIA has recently changed rules in the following areas:

  1. Awards rules will be consistent. The rules for the AIA’s Institute Awards now apply to the association’s Knowledge Communities (KC’s) awards programs. KC’s are member groups that have special interests in key areas of the profession. These communities often have their own awards. Processes will be uniform across all awards.
  2. All letters of reference will be confidential. This allows references to confidentially identify concerns about a nominee.
  3. AIA leadership groups—including the Board of Directors, College of Fellows—are able to provide privileged messages. Member leaders receive confidential notification of candidates and are afforded the opportunity to express support or concern regarding a nominee, which is added to the confidential review of the candidate.
  4. AIA will conduct random background checks. The Institute will work with an outside service to conduct random background checks to better assure that candidates for awards, and for Fellowship reflect the values of the profession.

Finally, AIA has retained the expertise of Covington & Burling, LLP and its partner Eric Holder, Jr.—who previously served as the U.S. Attorney General—to lead an advisory group to conduct a comprehensive review of AIA’s Honors & Awards programs and provide actionable recommendations for enhancing program processes.

Who will this affect?

These changes will affect anyone involved in submitting and reviewing applications for:

  1. AIA or Knowledge Community honors and awards;
  2. College of Fellows candidates

What are Covington and Burling, LLP’s and the advisory group’s goals?

Covington and Burling, LLP will work with members to determine how AIA further improves its processes for addressing harassment allegations.

The goals are:

  1. to ensure that the conduct of candidates for awards and for Fellowship has been consistent with the AIA Code of Ethics and the values of the profession; and
  2. to develop a thorough process for addressing allegations or other character issues should they arise.

How long will Covington and Burling, LLP, and this member group meet?

We believe the working group will have a recommendation within 60 to 90 days. At that point the recommendations will be presented to the AIA Board of Directors who will provide final approval for adoption.

Will the AIA strip past awards away from individuals accused of harassment?

We are focused on the future. Past awards’ juries did their due diligence and made their decisions in good faith with the information and the context that they had at the time. The Association’s work with Covington and Burling, LLP, is not retroactive or retrospective.

In an effort to promote the highest professional working standards throughout the profession, and among its members, AIA has asked Covington to lead a comprehensive review of the processes by which all Honors & Award recipients are selected.

AIA and its member leaders are working toward a profession whose actions and rhetoric match its values. We are making clear that harassment and discrimination have no place in the profession. Although the rules and processes governing AIA’s awards programs are currently effective at identifying design excellence, the AIA’s leadership believes they can be improved to better address issues of professional character, especially related to harassment of any kind and to send a clear message that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated in the profession.

The AIA seeks a thorough—yet timely—mechanism to address these situations when they occur or prevent them entirely.

Why has the AIA been so slow to address these issues?

AIA has taken a lead role in this matter through its Code of Ethics, its Equity in Architecture Commission’s diversity study, and the proactive hiring of Covington and Burling, LLP. We are constantly seeking ways in which AIA can provide actionable data, resources and counsel to foster and promote the highest of professional standards.  

What has the AIA done to date about harassment, discrimination, and inclusivity?

The AIA is committed to working with its members and firms to change the culture of our profession to one that is diverse, inclusive, welcoming, and treats everyone with dignity and respect.

In 2015, AIA formed the Equity in Architecture Commission to address broader concerns about disproportionate demographics in the profession. The commission conducted a diversity survey and used the results to set a plan of action for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession. AIA has been strategically executing the commission’s eleven recommendations provided by the Commission. A few of our key programs and initiatives include:

  • The creation of harassment and respectful workplace e-learning courses that are available for all members beginning in December of last year.
  • Releasing the first set of “Guides for Equitable Practice,” which provide architects and firms with guidance on best practices in equity, diversity and inclusion principles, and how those values can be a part of any architectural practice. The first three guides—"Cultural Competence + Implicit Bias,” “Pay Equity,” and “Workplace Culture”— were released in November of 2018. The next sets of guides will be released later this year.
  • Requiring those submitting Honors & Awards nominees to affirm they embody AIA’s values and ethics.
  • Requiring components to adopt a harassment policy, which is a new Core Member Service requirement for component accreditation.
  • Releasing a Where We Stand statement on sexual harassment in the architecture profession.  
  • Holding sessions on sexual harassment at the AIA Conference on Architecture for the last two years.
  • Continuing AIA’s K-12 initiative, which is intended to create a diverse pipeline for the next generation of architects, which is critical to the future of our profession. As part of this, AIA’s K-8 Learning by Design Chapter Grants introduce the architecture profession among underrepresented students in K-8 classrooms. From 2017-2018, the programs funded architectural educational programs in 18 communities, including those that are underserved. Each program—created by AIA chapters—engages students and their families through hands-on architecture experiences. As part of this, chapters develop curricula focused on architecture and design, train educators in design thinking and enlist architects to educate students in classrooms. Read the report.
  • Donating more than $1.2 million dollars to the Architects Foundation for scholarships that support underrepresented populations in the architecture professions.
  • The Board of Directors updated the Code of Ethics with changes to its Rules that specifically addressed harassment.

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