From the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts asked in Fisher v. Texas what diversity brought to physics. The reaction from the cheap progressive physics seats was unsatisfying.
We reject the premise that the presence of minority students and the existence of diversity need to be justified, but meanwhile segregation in physics is tacitly accepted as normal or good. Instead, we embrace the assumption that minority physics students are brilliant and ask, “Why does physics education routinely fail brilliant minority students?”
In other words, they’ve got nothing, which was a shame as there was a sound answer. But the question was a good one, and a difficult one, as science isn’t dependent on feelings, but facts. You don’t have to like gravity, but you’re going to have one hell of a time denying its existence.
But the argument has been creeping into such disciplines as engineering that gravity is just social construct born of white supremacy. Glaciers are sexist. The days of science remaining aloof from the vicissitudes of social justice may soon be over.
There are several other reasons why we got into engineering. One of them was the absence of what I describe here as “social engineering,” where the professor/instructor is interested not so much in solving technical problems as in setting the world right—in his or her opinion.
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.
As every woke persons already knows, there is no such thing as meritocracy. You didn’t deserve to run fast, but enjoyed the luck of genetics. Privilege, whether physical or cognitive, is unearned. Working well isn’t all it takes to succeed, as you must first get the opportunity to work well.
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.
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.
And therein the issue shifts, from giving every student capable of being a brilliant engineer, to socially engineering the discipline to fit the feelings of the students.
Once I became a professor, I never worried about how “socially connected” the education we provided at Michigan State for engineering students was. With trepidation, I read on to see if I was missing something important. I learned to my dismay that Purdue’s engineering education school rests on three bizarre pillars: “reimagining engineering and engineering education, creating field-shaping knowledge, and empowering agents of change.”
There is no doubt that engineers should come in every color and flavor, and in the course of their education, should bring to bear their interests and concerns. It may well be that one engineer with a particular interest in ways to purify water can effect wonderful change by coming up with a new way to bring clean water to places in need of it. Great stuff.
But of course, it just can’t stop at great inventions that help people.
The recently appointed dean of Purdue’s school, Dr. Donna Riley, has an ambitious agenda.
In her words (italics mine): “I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller rangeof 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….”
Does the good dean propose there be girl bridges and boy bridges? Should Newton be ignored because he was a white male? What are the implications for the engineering curriculum?
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 central philosophical premise of the article is leveling. It absolves students of responsibility and provides the non-learner with a ready excuse (“my teacher is a bigot!”). And there is no way to quantify its assertions.
It’s one thing for the fabricating perpetual excuses in tandem with the dumbing down of the gender studies curriculum, given that no bridge will collapse because somebody can’t spell “intersectional.” But engineering doesn’t have that latitude. If you build a really, really tall building that’s improperly engineered, it’s going to fall down. What it will not do is remain up because of the engineer’s color or gender, or any of the bold excuses for why thermodynamics is toxic masculinity.
This doesn’t mean women and minorities shouldn’t be engineers. Of course they should. But they still need to be able to do the math so the pink bridge doesn’t fall down. Engineers are all for tolerance, sometimes to the thousandths of an inch.