Et tu, Engineering?

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With so much of the humanities and social sciences badly infected with the nutty notions of postmodernism, intersectionality, progressivism, critical race theory, and so forth, isn’t it comforting to know that a few solid bastions of common sense and academic rigor remain?

Well, don’t get too comfortable. One of those bastions – engineering – has allowed the enemy to gain a foothold.

The fact of the matter is that the abilities needed to pass engineering courses and earn a degree are not evenly distributed throughout the population. More men than women go into engineering; more whites than “people of color” go into engineering Therefore, engineering “suffers” from that great liberal bugaboo – group inequality. And that has allowed a breach into the bastion, in the form of “engineering education” programs.

One of America’s most famous universities for engineering is Purdue and several years ago it established a school of engineering education. The point of this school is to change the way engineering is taught so that it will be more “inclusive.”  Its dean, Donna Riley, recently lamented that “academic rigor” – the crucial element in successful engineering work – is bad because it  “reinforces white male heterosexual privilege.”

Campus Reform’s Toni Airaksinen has the story here.

Riley expressed her thoughts in the journal Engineering Education. Academic rigor isn’t just about getting calculations right, she believes, but “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations – and links to masculinity in particular – are undeniable.”

That is so silly that you might suspect it was a hoax. But it’s not. Dean Riley has written similar things before, as Michigan State University engineering professor Indrek Wichman pointed out in this Martin Center article. She has declared that her goal is to make engineering “socially responsible” by “de-centering Western civilization.”

To Riley’s “progressive” thinking, Wichman responds, “Engineering education’s basic assumption is that engineering will be improved if the profession is crafted to be more diverse, but that is complete 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.”

Among Riley’s most absurd contentions is that the way engineering has been taught excludes “marginalized groups and marginalized ways of knowing.” People from all groups have succeeded in engineering and there are no ways of “knowing” other than the time-tested, objective principles of physics, math, chemistry, electricity, and so on. Learning those principles so that circuits don’t fizzle out and bridges don’t collapse has nothing to do with sexuality. I doubt that Riley herself would want to fly in an airplane designed by a “diverse” team using some other “way of knowing” how to design it for functionality and safety.

Fortunately, there is no chance that Riley will manage to remake the field of engineering to suit her. Companies are not going to hire people who have engineering degrees awarded for their “marginalized” group identities and alternative ways of knowing. That’s not the problem.

The problem is that American higher education creates platforms for irresponsible ranting like this. Scarce resources are wasted when we fund schools, professors, and journals devoted simply to ideological posturing.

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