roles for ABET
Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as its Web site makes clear,
is an organization with two general purposes. On the one hand it serves
to accredit programs in engineering and technology. On the other hand
it has a mission to act as a driving force for innovation and improvement
in engineering education. These are both worthy aims, but they should
not be pursued by the same organization. There is a conflict of interest
only wants to improve engineering education but has a particular view
of how the improvement should be achieved. Since the same organization
has the right to decide whether a program is acceptable or not, it is
clear that, in effect, it forces all of us to adopt the same view of
how engineering education should be made better. We are forced to listen
to and adopt the ideas of ABET with regard to innovation because of
the monopoly status that ABET wields. Now I do not say that the ideas
espoused by ABET are bad. Quite the contrary, they are very good. But
they are not the only good ideas. It is quite unacceptable that we should
all be pushed into the same mold.
an example. Suppose that in a particular field of engineering, university
X has the best program in the country. University X will still fail
in their bid for accreditation if they do not show that they have consulted
adequately with the people ABET considers to be "stakeholders".
Does this lack of input from stakeholders, in and of itself, mean that
graduates of the program are inadequately prepared to work as engineers?
Surely it does not.
example. The students in professor Y's course on thermodynamics learn
the material very well. Better, in fact, than in most such courses.
However, professor Y does not wish to write an explicit list of objectives
for his course. While recognizing that it can be a valuable exercise,
he has tried it in the past and found that it does not suit his teaching
style. Should the program be denied accreditation for this reason? Surely
not, but that is a likely outcome if professor Y sticks to his guns.
of the dual mission of ABET is that the accreditation process is corrupted.
The recommendations of ABET inspectors fall into two classes: The appropriate
and useful (your program needs more ...) and the improper (you have
not done what we tell you to...). Unfortunately, it seems that they
are equally likely to lead to unfavorable outcomes in the accreditation
that it knows how we should do our jobs and will make sure that we do
it their way. While it is true that their ideas have merit as well as
being fashionable, it is outrageous that an organization whose role
is to accredit engineering programs should force us into adopting their
The engineering college at my university has just completed an ABET
exercise. The remarks made here were not made as a result of that ABET
visit. The ideas were formed before I became involved in the ABET process
and in no way reflect specifically on the visit to this university.
Professor, Materials Science and Engineering