The Corner


Social Justice Has Invaded Engineering

Social-justice blather has spread over American higher education like kudzu growing over a field in rural North Carolina, but surely some fields will repel it, right? Fields where objective truth still holds sway, where there are rigorous standards, where there are clearly wrong answers — they will never let the SJW types gain a foothold, engineering for example.

Don’t be sure of that. In today’s Martin Center article, Michigan State engineering professor Indrek Wichman discusses the distressing phenomenon of “engineering education” programs and schools. He writes,

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.

The point of engineering education is to bring “diversity” to the field, which in the view of activists, is unfairly dominated by white men. It needs to have more women and minorities. It needs their “perspectives.” It needs to be free of the malign influences of Western civilization and capitalism.

Leading the way in this regard is Purdue’s school of engineering education. Professor Wichman notes that Purdue, so famed for its strong engineering programs that it has been known as “the MIT of the Midwest,” has recently brought in a new dean for its school of engineering education, Donna Riley, a woman whose views align perfectly with the SJW mentality. Her ambitious agenda includes “de-centering Western civilization” and promoting the notion of “social responsibility” in the minds of engineering students. Wichman observes,

Riley’s purpose seems not to be how best to train new engineers but to let everyone know how bad engineers have been, how they continue to “oppress” women and persons of color, how much we need “diverse perspectives,” and how the “struggle” continues to level all distinctions and differences in society.

It’s hard to see how the practice of engineering will be improved by letting the SJW mentality have its way in the field. On the contrary, it’s easy to see how it will be degraded by shifting focus away from all that has made it so great so progressives can tinker around with their egalitarian obsessions.

Oh, but won’t society be better if engineering has more diversity? Wichman replies that engineering is done by individuals and what matters is not their ancestry or gender but their competence: “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.”

As you approach a bridge, do you stop and think, “Gee, I hope that bridge was designed by a diverse team of engineers who weren’t overly influenced by Western civilization”? I doubt that anyone — even Dean Riley — does. You just want it to hold up.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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