When one thinks of the Progressive subversion of higher education, many people assume that the hard sciences are devoid of the kind of social justice agenda one finds in the humanities. But in a fascinating piece for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, engineer Indrek Wichman complains that engineering education has become more about social engineering than actual engineering. "A phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians, and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself in America’s college and universities," he writes. "The destruction they have caused in the humanities and social sciences has now reached to engineering."
Social justice warriors, Wichman continues, "have sought out the soft underbelly of engineering, where phrases such as 'diversity' and 'different perspectives' and 'racial gaps' and 'unfairness' and 'unequal outcomes' make up the daily vocabulary. Instead of calculating engine horsepower or microchip power/size ratios or aerodynamic lift and drag, the engineering educationists focus on group representation, hurt feelings, and 'microaggressions' in the profession."
Wichman points to the example of Dr. Donna Riley, the recently-appointed dean of Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education, which “envisions a more socially connected and scholarly engineering education," according to its website. "This implies that we radically rethink the boundaries of engineering and the purpose of engineering education.” Radically rethinking boundaries -- that phrase is a huge red flag.
Dr. Riley declares that her personal purpose is to “seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics, and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism, and colonialism…. Gender is a key…[theme]…[throughout] the course…. We…[examine]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”
Riley goes on, Wichman reports, to disparage "the free movement of capital, the role of Western civilization, and the nature of men, specifically 'colonialist' white men. How can it improve the practice of engineering to bring in such diversions and distractions?"
It can't, of course, but social justice warriors couldn't care less about the practice of engineering. They care only about politicizing every aspect of life and education.
"Riley’s purpose," Wichman says, "seems not to be how best to train new engineers but to let everyone know how bad engineers have been, how they continue to 'oppress' women and persons of color, how much we need 'diverse perspectives,' and how the 'struggle' continues to level all distinctions and differences in society."
Wichman notes also that engineering journals are filled with articles emphasizing diversity in the field. "We’re told that 'diversity in education refers to the effects of gender and ethnicity on student performance.' Issues like 'validation' and 'learning styles' are discussed, and of course the instructor must teach 'to address all three forms of diversity.'”
Wichman asserts that the push for diversity shouldn't be allowed to drag down standards in engineering. "Nor should we attack engineering’s foundations, its dominantly Western character, so that non-Westerners might suffer fewer 'microaggressions' and somehow feel better about studying it."
He concludes with this sobering truth, which could easily apply beyond the field of engineering to refer to Western civilization itself, which Purdue's dean of the School of Engineering Education wants to "de-center":
What is won without effort is surely without merit, and what is torn down and trampled will not easily be raised up again. We had better tread carefully.