Prism Magazine - February 2003
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MORE ON DIVERSITY

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.

Alan Foss
Professor Emeritus
Chemical Engineering
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 enough.)

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
Professor Emeritus
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

 

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