Our executive committee started in July of 2019. Our usual mandate included launching, delivering, and reporting on initiatives based on three pillars in SIGARCH’s mission statement – technical exchange, talent development and recognition, and outreach. These three pillars have a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion with initiatives that have impacted communities across ACM and beyond. We document these in our annual reports.
Our four-year period not only coincided with a pandemic, which is an unusually rare event in mankind’s history, but more importantly the tragic passing of Huixiang Chen with allegations of violations of codes of both ethics and professional conduct shaking our community at the very start of our mandate. In addition to advancing our mission’s three pillars, we spent these four years seeking solutions to community challenges stemming from these events which later influenced the wider ACM community.
On June 13, 2019, Huixiang Chen, a PhD student at the University of Florida, died by suicide and left a note suggesting violations of our code of ethics and professional conduct by his advisor and other members of the community. There were anonymous revelations about the misconduct that appeared on various communication channels including emails sent to the ISCA SC, ISCA PC and senior members of the community.
These allegations were not only about falsifying research results and coercion of a student but also the disclosure of reviewer identities, details about reviewer discussions, and access to an entire list of submitted papers to a conference suggesting collusion in our community. These revelations were then made public through social media including multiple articles that appeared in Medium.
We realized early on that there are major hurdles in reacting promptly to these revelations. ACM policies call for the utmost confidentiality of the process, preclude transparency, require those bringing forward allegations to identify themselves, and do not lend themselves well to a rapid response. With ACM’s agreement, we announced to the community that violations had been reported in multiple conferences and asked whoever had information to come forward.
On July 22, 2019, together with the help of many senior members in our community and other SIGs, and two members of the community who came forward, we filed a letter of complaint urging ACM to launch an independent investigation. We spent the next six months campaigning ACM directly and through letters to do so. On February 14, 2020, ACM announced an independent investigation with IEEE, impaneling the Joint Investigative Committee (JIC) with an external legal counsel and an external investigator to examine whether any violations of ACM policies and procedures had occurred.
On February 8th, 2021, ACM publicly announced a summary of JIC’s investigation into allegations of professional and publications-related misconduct in our community. The announcement stated that there were several individuals who had violated ACM’s policies and had received penalties ranging from warning letters to a 15-year ban on participation in any ACM publication or reviewing activity. We thank ACM for their tremendous effort for having impaneled JIC and truly appreciate the final conclusion of JIC’s investigation and that penalties were given to the perpetrators.
Our Actions & Impact
We took a number of immediate positive steps together with other SIGs and TCCA to improve our processes, to respond to allegations of ethics violation, strengthen the integrity of review processes, and offer support for the well-being of our members.
In 2020, we successfully lobbied ACM to extend CARES’ mandate to support individuals who want to discuss ethics violations as part of addressing these issues. We asked ACM’s HotCRP service to turn on tracking all downloads (a feature that can provide concrete evidence to ACM in reporting violations), and two-factor authentication for enhanced security. We asked ASPLOS and ISCA organizers to announce clear ethics guidelines to all program committee members, external reviewers, and authors, and avoid the use of bidding in the paper assignment process. We offered full support for CASA, a student-led initiative to promote the well-being of the student members in the community.
The troubling events in the community revealed areas where our policies and processes can be improved to deter and prevent misconduct, promptly detect and investigate it when it happens, and enforce penalties on the perpetrators. We brought to ACM’s attention that there are many questions that remain unanswered regarding these policies and processes and published them in a blog. We are happy to see that these answers are also of interest to other SIGs and that ACM is slowly moving torward addressing them. These include but are not limited to ACM’s announcement of the new Publication Coercion Policy and ACM Council’s formation of a Committee on Disclosure to propose Draft 2 about the extent violations should be disclosed.
Conference Best Practices, Guidelines & Tools
At SIGARCH we believe that the integrity of our review process is paramount and rests on our handling of ethical concerns and conflicts of interest. Our review processes are under pressure due to the rapid growth in the computer architecture community, increases in reviewer load, and the introduction of virtual and hybrid conferences. To support our conference chairs, reviewers, and authors, the SIGARCH and TCCA Executive Committees published: (1) a best-practices document for anonymity, conflict of interest, and ethics guidelines for program committee chairs, reviewers, and authors, and (2) an updated best-practices document for program chairs including guidelines for vetting the invited list of reviewers against the ACM and IEEE’s sanctions database and by the conference Steering Committee (which was adopted early on by other SIGs including SIGCHI).
The combined effect of growth in the community, increase in the number of responsibilities and transformation of conferences from in-person to online and hybrid resulted in an unprecedented load on conference organizers and program chairs. SIGARCH, together with TCCA, created packets for program chairs and general chairs with guidelines and pointers to information, resources, and tools, including PCDB, a database of service history from reviewers in four computer architecture conferences. One key concern for conferences in our community is the increase in the number of submitted papers and review load. The PC Chair guidelines packet includes pointers to open-source tools for use by organizers to crawl DBLP and identify conflicts. We launched the development of ConflictDB that enables tracking both DBLP-crawled and self-declared conflicts (through two-way confirmation) for use by the community across multiple conferences, slated to be piloted in 2023.
SIGARCH created a new set of guidelines reflecting our minimum standards for sponsored and in-cooperation conferences to follow. The new requirements include (but are not limited to) posting ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and ACM’s Policy Against Harassment on the conference website, prompt reporting of alleged violations of these codes, using double-blind review processes for paper selection, considering ACM’s guidelines for forming a diverse team for organization and reviewing, and vetting the team against ACM’s sanctions database.
Diversity & Inclusion
SIGARCH has long had a tradition of supporting diversity and inclusion in our community, such as the creation of WICARCH as a sponsored subcommittee to boost talent development for women in computer architecture. The grants initiatives were created to support student travel, companion assistance travel, childcare at conferences, and sponsorship of events that specifically promote widening participation (e.g., the CRA-WP grad cohort program).
This EC expanded these programs to include the Undergrad Architecture Mentoring Workshop (uArch), targeting undergrads in parts of the world and institutions with lower average participation at computer architecture conferences, and the Young Architect Workshop (YArch) to boost talent development among junior grad students and undergrads interested in research.
We expanded and scaled our student support programs in this EC with the help of CASA, hosting events to promote networking and balanced mental health for computer architecture students. CASA also launched the “Meet a Senior Student” mentorship initiative, which together with our previously created “Meet a Senior Architect” program, is now offered at ASPLOS, ISCA and other conferences with the inclusion of a mentorship chair in the organizing committee. These programs have been quite successful thanks to the commitment and dedication of volunteer organizers.
We have had several outreach initiatives in recent years including a revamped version of the website, social media, mailed newsletter and the Computer Architecture Today. The SIGARCH YouTube Channel became instrumental in serving as a repository for all presentations during online and hybrid events. We now use the channel to keep all recorded presentations. In 2020, we launched The Computer Architecture Podcasts in 2020 with Suvinay Subramanian and Lisa Hsu as editors to interview leading figures in the architecture community about cutting-edge topics in architecture, their vision, and career experiences.
A Huge Thanks…
to our volunteers without whom we would not have been able to accomplish so much. Adrian Sampson as our Social Media Editor, Jayneel Gandhi as our Video Editor, Alvin Lebeck, Rajeev Balasubramonian and Brandon Lucia as Blog Editors, Vijay Reddi and Christina Delimitrou as Associate Blog Editors, Samira Khan and Akanksha Jain as Content Editors, Suvinay Subramanian and Lisa Hsu as inaugural Computer Architecture Podcasts Editors, Sophia Shao as WICARCH Officer, Margaret Martonosi, Kathryn McKinley, Shan Lu, Timothy Pinkston, and Per Stenström as CARES Chairs, the entire CARES and WICARCH team of volunteers, Bobbie Manne, Newsha Ardalani and Lena Olson and the entire team of uArch volunteers, Shaizeen Aga, Aasheesh Kolli and Alexandros Daglis and the entire team of YArch volunteers, and Elba Garza, Raghavendra Pothukuchi and Abdulrahman Mahmoud as CASA Officers and the team of CASA volunteers.
Welcome the New EC
We welcome the new EC: Natalie Enright Jerger (Chair), José Martínez (Vice Chair), Yasuko Eckert (Treasurer), Babak Falsafi (Past Chair), and Rajeev Balasubramonian, Boris Grot, Martha Kim, and Adrian Sampson (Directors). We entrust SIGARCH to this EC, equipped with a robust fund that thrived despite COVID uncertainties. We’ve begun enhancing review processes in partnership with TCCA but there is significant room for improvement. We have started our work to improve ACM’s policies and processes to address ethics and publication violations, but many questions remain. We wish them the best for the next four years!
About the authors: The departing SIGARCH Executive Committee includes Babak Falsafi (Chair), Natalie Enright Jerger (Vice Chair), Karin Strauss (Treasurer), Sarita Adve (Past Chair), and Board of Directors members Joel Emer, Boris Grot, Martha Kim and José F. Martínez.
Disclaimer: These posts are written by individual contributors to share their thoughts on the Computer Architecture Today blog for the benefit of the community. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal, belong solely to the blog author and do not represent those of ACM SIGARCH or its parent organization, ACM.