Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Social Justice Warriors Attack Engineering

Indrek Wichman has a warning. The social justice warriors who have systematically ravaged the social sciences and humanities have set their sights on engineering. Through the advent of programs in something called “engineering education” they are working hard to introduce more diversity into engineering… regardless of whether or not the bridges hold up or the machines actually work. Diversity is its own justification. Welcome to the new front in the social justice war.

A flagrant irony hangs over this issue. After all, Wichman points out, nothing could be more race neutral and gender blind than engineering. What matters when you engineer a device is: whether it works:

A second and related reason is that engineering (and the sciences generally) should be, like the scales of justice, blind. Engineering does not care about your color, sexual orientation, or your other personal and private attributes. All it takes to succeed is to do the work well.

Even as an undergraduate many years ago, my engineering classmates and I noticed that fact, and we were proud to have a major that valued only the quality of one’s work. In that sense, engineering was like athletics, or music, or the military: there were strict and impersonal standards.

Objective standards… isn’t that what we want? Apparently not, if the outcomes defy the expectations of the social justice warriors.

Wickman continues:

Alas, the world we engineers envisioned as young students is not quite as simple and straightforward as we had wished because a phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians, and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself in America’s college and universities. The destruction they have caused in the humanities and social sciences has now reached to engineering.

He presents the evidence: the growing power of engineering education programs:

One of the features of their growing power is the phenomenon of “engineering education” programs and schools. They have sought out the soft underbelly of engineering, where phrases such as “diversity” and “different perspectives” and “racial gaps” and “unfairness” and “unequal outcomes” make up the daily vocabulary. Instead of calculating engine horsepower or microchip power/size ratios or aerodynamic lift and drag, the engineering educationists focus on group representation, hurt feelings, and “microaggressions” in the profession.

Wickman is sad to see Purdue University, a school that has always excelled at teaching engineering, creating a School of Engineering Education. To head the school it has chosen a perfectly “woke” fool, named Dr. Donna Riley. He presents her agenda:

In her words (italics mine): “I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics, and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism,and colonialism…. Gender is a key…[theme]…[throughout] the course…. We…[examine]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”

That starts off innocently enough, discussing the intersection of engineering with public policy and ethics, but then veers off the rails once Riley begins disparaging the free movement of capital, the role of Western civilization, and the nature of men, specifically “colonialist” white men. How can it improve the practice of engineering to bring in such diversions and distractions?

It’s not about improving the quality of engineering. It’s about overthrowing the free enterprise system, the patriarchy and white male colonialism.

That’s not all. Wickman offers another example:

Lest the reader believe I exaggerate, let him peruse a periodical called the Journal of Engineering Education, the Society for Engineering Education’s flagship journal. In each number, readers find at least one article with a title such as “Diversifying the Engineering Workforce” or “Understanding Student Difference” (January, 2005, Vol. 94, No. 1).

I chose this volume at random, but they are all like that. The first section of the latter article is “Three Facets of Student Diversity” in which the authors explain how to “motivate” and “retain” students in engineering, the emphasis being on minorities and women. We’re told that “diversity in education refers to the effects of gender and ethnicity on student performance.” Issues like “validation” and “learning styles” are discussed, and of course the instructor must teach “to address all three forms of diversity.”

The problem is that the profession of engineering is insufficiently diverse. There are not enough women and minorities:

The central philosophical premise of the article is leveling. … If only we were more fair and just, women and “minorities” (whatever that word means any more) would flock to engineering.

Engineering education’s basic assumption is that engineering will be improved if the profession is crafted to be more diverse, but that is completely untested. In the universe I live in, engineering is for those who want to and can be engineers. It’s not for everybody and there is no reason to believe that aptitude for engineering is evenly distributed.

To institute diversity you need to forget about talent and achievement.

Nobody wants to see an uncoordinated doofus on the NBA basketball court simply to add “diversity.” We pay to see top-notch talent compete for victory. We should apply the same standards to engineering and stop pretending that we can “game” our wonderful profession so that anyone can succeed.

Nor should we attack engineering’s foundations, its dominantly Western character, so that non-Westerners might suffer fewer “microaggressions” and somehow feel better about studying it.

What is won without effort is surely without merit, and what is torn down and trampled will not easily be raised up again. We had better tread carefully.


David Foster said...

"the patriarchy and white male colonialism"

In many if not most engineering disciplines, the majority of students, and increasingly of practitioners, are Asian.

trigger warning said...

A few observations...

First, the employment title "engineer" means nothing. Recall the bridge that recently collapsed in Florida after being built to Obama Admin TIGER program specifications? The "engineer" who claimed credit for the bridge pre-collapse, Mzzz Leonor Flores ("It’s very important for me as a woman and an engineer to be able to promote that to my daughter because I think women have a different perspective. We’re able to put in an artistic touch and we’re able to build too.”), does not have a degree in engineering (sans quote marks). Her degree is in construction management.

Second, and I say this at risk of triggering many people, the term "software engineer" is a complete misnomer. Weinberg's Second Law puts it succinctly: "If engineers built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization." Recall the Obamacare software "rollout".

Third, it has come to my attention, via Keen [PhD, 2010, Curriculum and Instruction] and her student, Anna Salvatorelli, (both in the U Kansas State Dept of "Construction Science"), that gender "biases in the licensure exam for professional engineers" account for the lower female passage rate. Here are some sample questions, you make the call:


Sam L. said...

SJWs want to "bring us down", and our buildings, too.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

One of the most pernicious ideas of recent times is “disparate impact.” It’s an Obama-Holder favorite.

The idea being that government policy impacts races differently. I believe this standard is silly, unless it is intentional, which is why “disparate treatment” has been the historical standard, and is fully sensible.

That said, let’s try a thought experiment: How about the disparate impact of government gun control on the crime rates (most notably shootings and murder) on the African-American community?


Exactly. There is no answer. Which is why “disparate impact” is a vicious canard.