'Social justice warriors' are ruining engineering, prof warns

Engineering education has been infiltrated by a “phalanx of social justice warriors” who are steadily corrupting the field, according to a Michigan State University professor.

“They 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,” asserts Mechanical Engineering professor Indrek Wichman in an essay published Wednesday by the James G. Martin Center.

“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 adds.

[RELATED: Engineers baffled by ‘microaggression’ workshop at conference]

Citing the Purdue University School of Education Engineering as a case study, Wichman claims that “engineering education” schools increasingly focus on concepts that are incompatible with the actual discipline, such as “empowering” students and “reimagining” engineering as a more “socially connected” field of study.

“For the record, engineers ‘empower’ themselves and, most important, other people, by inventing things,” he points out. “Those things are our agents of change.”

Wichman goes on to highlight the “ambitious agenda” of Dr. Donna Riley, the recently appointed dean of Purdue’s engineering school, as an example of the extent of social justice “infiltration” at the school.

According to her faculty page, Riley aims to “revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destination” by incorporating “concerns related to...social responsibility,” focusing on “de-centering Western civilization,” and “uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups.”

In addition, she has taught classes addressing topics like “racist and colonialist projects in science” and using “feminist and postcolonial science studies” to study engineering issues.”

“Riley’s purpose seems not to be how best to train new engineers but to let everyone know how bad engineers have been,” Witchman remarks, reminding readers that this is just one example of the creeping influence of social justice theory in engineering.

[RELATED: U of Iowa creates social justice bachelor’s degree]

In an interview with Campus Reform, Witchman opined that social justice issues have “no place in a technical science-based education,” which he believes should function solely on the basis of merit and ability.

“The door to engineering is open to everyone, just as the floor of the basketball court is open to everyone, or applying to the [Navy] SEALS is open to everyone,” he argued. “The question then is, are you good enough?”

In fact, he even suggested that efforts to prevent microaggressions or teach about bias might be redundant for engineers, since treating people with respect is already ingrained in the engineering curriculum.

“One does not graduate from a quality engineering program without learning that behavior, interpersonal relations, manners, and especially communications are crucially important,” he explained, adding that “the foundation of communication is respect.”

[RELATED: Colleges now teaching social justice to high schoolers]

But under the new paradigm on college campuses, white males have the biggest target on their backs, according to Wichman, who noted the irony of this in his interview.

“Interestingly, this very segment produces by far the most of our engineers, and judging by what we have accomplished, they have done a damn good job,” he said. “Why do these ideologues want to run them down?”

Wichman, who has taught engineering for more than 30 years, worries that the growing influence of social justice in engineering programs could have major consequences for the field, such as a mass exodus of students who don’t wish to be “indoctrinated” that could present enduring challenges to the discipline.

“Engineers like me, at least, believe there is A Truth…and muddling that with someone’s vague notions about ‘social justice’ would ruin engineering (and the other sciences),” Wichman lamented.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen