“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.”
~ Indrek Wichman
Indrek Wichman, a mechanical engineer professor at Michigan State University, has eyed a troubling trend of social justice warriors making their way through the humanities and social sciences and, to his despair, they now have their sights set on leveling their destruction on engineering.
Having spent 30 years teaching mechanical engineering, Wichman acknowledges things have changed dramatically and is concerned that “feelings” and “micro-aggressions” have taken a predominant role, much to the detriment of the hard sciences.
“The world we engineers envisioned as young students is not quite as simple and straightforward as we had wished,” he states in a paper in IntellectualTakeout.org, “because a phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians, and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself in America’s colleges and universities. The destruction they have caused in the humanities and social sciences has now reached to engineering.”
He describes the approach and thought processes of an engineer in terms of aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán. “[He] said that ‘a scientist studies what is, while an engineer creates what never was.’ In engineering, we apply scientific principles in the design and creation of new technologies for mankind’s use. It’s a creative process.”
“We engineers like to solve technical problems. That’s the way we think, that’s why we chose our major, that’s why we got into and stayed in engineering,” Wichman writes.
This pragmatic thought process of the engineer is the antithesis of what social justice warriors subscribe to, which he describes as “social engineering” – a mindset of “setting the world right – in his or her opinion” as opposed to the engineer’s mindset of “solving technical problems.”
Wichman writes that engineering is meant to be like the scales of justice, blind. “Engineering does not care about your color, sexual orientation, or your other personal and private attributes,” he writes. “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.”
Now with the infiltration of social justice warriors sweeping into every discipline, the daily vocabulary in engineering is made up of phrases such as “diversity” and “different perspectives” and “racial gaps” and “unfairness” and “unequal outcomes.”
“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 ‘micro-aggressions’ in the profession,” he says.
He refers to Purdue University’s engineering education school to make his case, and says that to his dismay the school’s engineering department rests on such bizarre notions as “reimagining engineering” and “empowering agents of change.”
“What does “reimagining engineering” mean? Since engineering is basically creativity, how are we supposed to “reimagine creativity”? That makes no sense,” Wichman argues. “And, just for the record, engineers “empower” themselves and, most important, other people, by inventing things. Those things are our agents of change.”
The professor points out the newly-appointed dean of Purdue’s school of engineering education, Dr. Donna Riley, and how her thought processes go off into the wild blue yonder:
“In her words: ‘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?
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.
For a bit of context, Riley received an award from the National Science Foundation in 2005 for her work on implementing and assessing critical and feminist pedagogies in engineering classrooms. According to AutoStraddle.com, “in 2008 she published Engineering and Social Justice and in 2010 was awarded the NOGLSTP Educator of the Year award for her work on combining social justice work and science pedagogy. She is out both personally and professionally as bisexual, and speaks as articulately about biphobia to the queer community as she does about homophobia to the heteronormative world.”
Wichman laments that the concept of “engineering education” emphasizes a minority- and female-based approach to diversifying the discipline of engineering within the educational system as to rid engineering of the large percentage of white males and level the playing field with more minorities, women, and others. To accomplish this, engineering education books are focusing on social justice issues and tactics with an end goal of diversifying the engineering workforce.
The professor’s view, however, is more heavily rooted in basic common sense.
“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,” Wichman points out.
“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.”
He also rejects the notion of pushing people into a discipline of which they have limited interest or ability, which is what he’s seeing with “engineering education.”
“Nobody wants to see an uncoordinated doofus on the NBA basketball court simply to add “diversity,” he writes. “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.”
You can read Indrek Wichman’s full paper here.