The race, ethnicity, and sex of applicants for appointments to engineering
faculties seem to be the only things that matter these days. The article "Facing
the Problem" in the October 2002 issue of Prism gives that impression
and is entirely devoid of any analysis of the special attributes and
abilities that persons in those groupings might bring to the engineering
profession and to the teaching of engineering. Surely, they can bring
something of value. But, what is it?
There is not a single mention or example of professional attributes
in the article, but it is those attributes, not the mere race and sex
of applicants, that are of importance. Attributes and abilities that
would be of interest to any dean are an irrepressible and passionate
interest in teaching engineering and a conviction that one has a unique
message and a novel style, cleverness in building experimental equipment
to scout out the viability of research ideas, a thorough knowledge
of engineering and engineering science, a superb applied mathematical
ability, and an interest in passing it on to youngsters. Beyond this,
a dean could ask the candidate their vision as to what race or sex
could contribute to teaching and also to the evolution of new research
directions for the profession.
Could we not have heard some such thoughts directly from those deans
who perceive race and sex diversity as an urgent matter? Instead, we
read only of a wordsmith's report of interviews around the country.
We then might expect a more thorough analysis of the situation and
a report congruent with our heritage of scientific and engineering
discourse. The deans might have asked the penetrating questions and
inquired why the mere equalization of percentages of race and sex would
contribute to advances in engineering education. This article does
not con-vince me that it does.
More upsetting is the unmistakable evidence of racism and sexism
in the statements and actions reported of certain deans. The entire
pool of promising and capable persons should be open for consideration
without regard to the race or sex of those in it. The current diversity
craze with its race and sex focus is antithetical to the precepts of
fairness in the nation and our profession. Any policy negating fairness
will fail to the detriment of everyone.
University of California–Berkeley
Just read the four absolutely excellent letters from readers in the
December issue of Prism. The simple truths of what those readers said
will be brushed off because engineering faculty in many schools are
gradually becoming dominated by those who were hired primarily for
their research potential, with the teaching aspect minimized or rationalized
by the same faculty who later became involved in the hiring process.
All the hand-wringing about diversity, lack of American-born Ph.D.s
and women faculty, and attracting and keeping minorities in school
can be laid to an overemphasis on research and publishing—at
the expense of teaching. These so-called problems weren't problems
30 or more years ago. (It should be clear here that I'm not talking
about social attitudes which have changed for the better, though, not
Why not? Teaching and all associated responsibilities were generally
put first. If that core philosophy existed now, there would be more
minorities and women going into engineering, and more American-born
Ph.D.s for future faculty. While it is idiotic to claim that teaching
is an enemy of research, poor teaching should not be accepted because
one is known as a researcher.
One department head I know well at a major university tells his new
faculty that if they want to be promoted they should spend 95 percent
of their time on research and 5 percent on teaching. Sometimes being
know as an excellent teacher may be an advan- tage. Hopefully, the
day will come again when such a discussion will not be necessary.
Verne C. Cutler
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee