Engineering Ethics

Joseph Carson (73530.2350@CompuServe.COM)
17 Mar 97 01:43:36 EST

March 17, 1997

To: Elements of the Leadership of ASME
To: Elements of the Leadership of NSPE

From: Joe Carson, P.E.

Subject: Let's Get "Muscular" About Engineering Competency and
Ethics and Society Membership Growth and Retention.

Esteemed Colleagues,

I can't read a publication from our organizations lately that
does not mention the need for new members and membership

To me, the appeals seem forced. I'm an engineering professional,
competent and ethical. I can't envision not being a member of
ASME and NSPE - is not the purpose of these organizations to
inform, encourage, advocate, serve, and protect engineering
professionals like myself?

Obviously, many others in our profession can view themselves as
competent and ethical professionals absent obtaining a P.E. or
joining an Engineering Professional Society. Should they not be
disabused? (Or should I be disabused?)

My alma mater, the University of Rochester (I obtained a BSME in
1976), contacts me regularly asking for various types of
support - donations, bequests, co-op opportunities for students,
student recruitment, job leads for students, etc. Does this
sound familiar to you?

On the other hand, my engineering school at the University of
Rochester has never asked my opinion of my undergraduate
experience, what I've done with my life since matriculating, if
I'm become a P.E., why or why not; if I'm a member of an
Engineering Professional Society, why or why not; if I've gone on
to an advanced degree, why or why not, and if so, in what field?
ABET has not contacted me either and, as I'm sure you know, I
have no input into decisions my engineering college makes
regarding tenure and hiring.

What's wrong with this picture (and what, if anything, does it
have to do with our organizations' membership challenges?)

I, as you, could have chosen any number of vocations. I decided
that I wanted to be a competent and ethical engineer and went to
college with that intention. However, I don't recall any of my
college professors encouraging "ethics," "professionalism," or
the role of an Engineering Professional Society in advocating
these ends.

That's wrong, plain and simple. If engineering colleges are not
in the business of training and educating students to be ethical
and competent, they should close their doors (actually ABET
should close their doors for them.)

Becoming licensed as a P.E. says one thing, if nothing else - "I
am accountable for my competency and ethics as a Professional
Engineer. I earned and keep my license through being a competent
and ethical engineer." This is a message that should be
repeatedly emphasized as the goal of any course of study in
engineering - to produce ethical and competent engineering
practitioners. What other legitimate goal can there be?

Since that is the goal, it follows that all faculty at an
engineering school must model the desired behavior to their
students. They must be licensed and they must be members of
their engineering professional societies. Otherwise, they are

Engineering Professional Societies, for our part, must also "hold
the mirror up to ourselves." We're weak at sanctioning unethical
actions by engineers, we don't consistently and forcefully call
for our members to become P.E.'s (with obvious exception of
NPSE), and our open and repeated failure to protect our Code of
Ethics by protecting our members who have suffered workplace
reprisal for putting our profession's "Code of Ethics" above
personal consideration, is, simply, shameful.

I work for the Department of Energy (DOE.) I'll soon be a first
in the history of the federal government, a federal employee who
is a "three time prevailing" whistleblower against unlawful
whistleblower reprisal. What does that say about DOE? Well, DOE
provides big money to the engineering profession. Engineers have
accomplished many amazing things for DOE. However, many
engineers who work for DOE have betrayed the "Code of Ethics for
Engineers." The cost to society? An estimated 250 billion
dollars for the clean-up of DOE sites.

I'm on the inside. Let me tell you a nasty secret about DOE -
many engineers acquiesced to what has been, in effect, a
wholesale program of industrial and environmental sabotage in
DOE. Why would they do this? Basically, it was because of job
security in various guises - if they voiced a concern they
realistically would have been terminated and blacklisted, if they
did nothing, they stood to reap the windfall from the
environmental remediation projects (and many have.) Not a pretty
picture for our profession, is it?

I think some painful and public self-examination is called for
regarding unethical engineering in DOE. I also think the
recruitment/retention challenges our Societies face is very much
connected to our individual and collective ethical lapses that
DOE evidences.

If the Engineering Societies rise to challenge, I think their
futures are very bright. Why shouldn't they be, as we live in an
increasingly complex technological world - one that requires many
openly competent, ethical, and accountable (i.e. licensed)
engineers. The weak link seems to be the engineering schools and
their faculty. They are not sufficiently accountable for
repeatedly, and in chorus, stressing the fundamental importance
of becoming licensed and in becoming active members of an
Engineering Professional Society.

Here's my suggestion as how to make them, and us, more
accountable - establish "alumni" pages at the websites of the
student chapters of the Engineering Professional Societies, with
the express blessing of the administration and alumni relations -
the alumni pages can list email addresses, resumes, personal
websites, professional websites, and other interest of the
alumni. The possible benefits to students is obvious. Alumni
will be able to play a more active role, via being more informed,
of policy and personnel decisions in their engineering alma
maters. This will be good for the school and the alumni. All
this positive interaction will occur under the aegis of the
Engineering Professional Society, which will be good for it.

I've suggested this idea to my alma mater - they like it! So I'm
now learning web authoring! The motto of my alma mater is
"meliora" - better.