|By Mary Kathleen Flynn
IS AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT PART
OF THE CURRICULUM AT MANY ENGINEERING
The next generation of engineers
may develop a deeper understanding
of the moral dimensions of their
profession, thanks to a movement
to include ethics in the undergraduate
curriculum at many engineering colleges.
The trend is part of a larger goal
of integrating liberal arts into
the engineering curriculum (See
a New Book," Prism,
February, 2004). The field of ethics
is getting a boost from the wording
of the new criteria for accreditation.
Advocates are encouraged by a handful
of universities that are making
ethics courses mandatory, integrating
ethics into the engineering curriculum
and establishing endowed chairs
in engineering ethics.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering
and Technology's Engineering
Criteria 2000 requires engineering
programs to demonstrate that their
students attain: "an ability
to design a system, component, or
process to meet desired needs within
realistic constraints such as economic,
environmental, social, political,
ethical, health and safety, manufacturability,
and sustainability." Students
must also attain "the broad
education necessary to understand
the impact of engineering solutions
in a global, economic, environmental,
and societal context."
Of course, the devil is in the
details, and schools are grappling
with how to meet the new requirements.
"Everyone is puzzling about
exactly what these mystery sentences
mean," explains Mike W. Martin,
co-author with Roland Schinzinger
of the classic text Ethics in
Engineering (Fourth Edition,
McGraw-Hill, 2004) and a professor
of philosophy at Chapman University,
in Orange, Calif. "Every school
is sitting down and wondering, ‘Does
this mean we have to have a whole
course on ethics?'"
The key is to integrate ethics
throughout the curriculum. Martin
urges universities to introduce
ethics at several different points,
including freshman orientation and
the senior design project. "A
one-time guest lecturer from the
philosophy department is not going
to be very dramatic."
Martin applauds a handful of universities
that have integrated ethics into
the engineering canon successfully.
One is Texas A&M University,
which requires engineering undergrads
to complete a full course on ethics.
Texas A&M has also established
one of the country's few endowed
chairs in engineering ethics. In
January, the university appointed
philosophy professor Charles E.
Harris Jr. the Sue and Harry E.
Bovay, Jr. Professor in the History
and Ethics of Professional Engineering.
Ronald Kline holds a similar chair
at Cornell University. Martin also
cites the University of Virginia
School of Engineering and Applied
Science, which has under its umbrella
the Department of Science, Technology
and Society (STS). Engineering students
are required to complete four courses
that focus on the social and ethical
dimensions of science and technology,
explains Deborah Johnson, who chairs
the STS department.
Engineering graduates may face
more moral dilemmas in the workplace
than ever before, as their employers
go increasingly global. As American
engineers work more in other countries,
they face standards for safety,
environmental impact, human rights,
and child labor that are less stringent
than back home. "American
engineers are trained to have the
highest safety standards in the
world," says Martin. "What
happens when you go to another country
where costs are lower in part because
of cheaper labor and lower standards
concerning the environment and safety?
What do you do? Do you lower your
standards? Engineers have to think
about these issues and work out
a much more complex and more nuanced
moral perspective than in the old
Mary Kathleen Flynn has covered
technology for more than 15 years
for a variety of media outlets,
including Newsweek, the New York
Times, U.S. News & World Report,
CNN, and MSNBC.