This commentary was originally featured in Forbes on August 15, 2017.
Remarking on the relation between education and politics, Joseph Stalin observed that “the writer is the engineer of the human soul.”
In Stalinist fashion, today’s campuses are endeavoring to rewrite the souls of engineers.
With this latest assault on science and human reason, one begins to wonder whether these universities are simply begging to become targets for state defunding. The most recent case in point: On July 24, Louisiana State University (LSU) concluded its second annual Consortium for Innovation in Manufacturing and Materials (CIMM) RII Symposium. What’s so objectionable about that? The symposium included an hour-long session on—neither “manufacturing,” nor “materials,” but—micro-aggressions.
Regular readers of this column know that, over the past several decades, ideology has replaced scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, as well as in the education and social work fields. But those teaching and studying the natural sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM” subjects) have, for the most part, been left unscathed by the PC/SJW mob, because these fields are deemed to offer more objective answers to the questions they research.
No more, apparently. The cancer of what can be called “Institutionalized Indoctrination” now appears to be metastasizing. As reported in Campus Reform, Sara Hernandez, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Student Engagement at Cornell University, and Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Dean of Engineering at Campbell University, moderated LSU’s “implicit bias” seminar. When interviewed, Carpenter asserted, “When faculty and students aren't aware of implicit bias, they unwittingly engage in behaviors that continue the discrimination and discouragement of women and underrepresented minorities in science, mathematics, and engineering disciplines.”
Dr. Pedro Derosa, who chaired the panel concurs, added that “social stereotypes” explain the deficit of women and minorities in STEM fields.
This is no longer merely an “academic debate.” Recall that in the first Presidential debate last September, moderator Lester Holt asked candidate Hillary Clinton the following:
HOLT: “Secretary Clinton, last week, you said we've got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias. Do you believe that police are implicitly biased against black people?
CLINTON: “Lester, I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. I think, unfortunately, too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other. And therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions about, you know, why am I feeling this way?” (italics supplied).
This issue went national again just last week, when Google fired James Damore, an engineer who wrote an internal memo that, according to Google, “perpetuat[es] gender stereotypes.” As reported on Bloomberg.com, “Damore’s 10-page memorandum accused Google of silencing conservative political opinions and argued that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions.”
Lest we forget, Damore is not the first, nor is he likely to be the last, heretic to be seared at the stake for questioning the “social stereotypes” theory of why women are less represented in the engineering field. Former president of Harvard, Larry Summers, was torched for merely suggesting in 2005 that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” may explain some of the gap between women and men who complete STEM subjects.
After Summers’s attempt at Socratic questioning, came the deluge. Displaying, for all who cared to see, the anti-reason, anti-science ethos choking today’s campuses, Harvard administered its hapless president the hemlock of career-termination. –And this despite the fact that the transcript of his 2005 remarks also includes this remark: "I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.”
Fat chance of that. Summers had believed Harvard was still animated by the Socratic maxim that had for more than two millennia directed liberal education: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Afterward, he—and the rest of us—discovered that, on today’s campuses, the un-PC life is not worth living.
But the current campus Reign of Terror has not prevented a few Scarlet Pimpernels from asking the questions that must to be asked if universities are to fulfill their teaching-and-learning mission. One of these truth-seekers, Emory University professor, Scott Lilienfeld, released a research study this year calling for “a moratorium on micro-aggression training” as well as “abandonment of the term ‘micro-aggression’” itself. Lilienfeld argues that the “theory” behind micro-aggressions is far from “being ready for real-world application.” In addition to being intellectually bereft, it could also “exacerbate racial tensions” through inflaming students’ “sensitivity” to alleged slights.
Michigan State University professor of mechanical engineering, Indrek Wichman, concurs in Lilienfeld’s critique. In an essay written for the James G. Martin Center, Wichman asserts that “a phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians, and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself” on our campuses. “The destruction they have caused in the humanities and social sciences has now reached to engineering.”
The result? “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 ‘micro-aggressions’ in the profession,” argues Wichman.
As usual, behind every SJW campus agenda stands a PC senior administrator. Wichman calls attention to the efforts of the dean of Purdue’s engineering school, Dr. Donna Riley, who, writes Wichman, is furthering the SJWs “infiltration” of engineering. Wichman quotes Riley’s own words “I seek to revise engineering curricula to . . . integrat[e] concerns related to . . . social responsibility; de-center Western civilization; and uncover contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism, and colonialism…. Gender is a key… [focus]… [of] the course…. We… [analyze]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”
How “de-centering [=dismantling] Western civilization” will help the next generation of engineers build stronger bridges as well as safer airplanes and automobiles is, I confess, beyond my understanding. What I do understand is that the wall of objectivity previously separating STEM subjects from the humanities and social sciences is collapsing before our eyes.
With this collapse, Wichman fears that the engineering field will soon suffer a loss of enrollment, as prospective students vote with their feet and flee the new anti-science, anti-free-inquiry regime ravaging the field.
Will the PC/SJW forces succeed at debasing yet another academic discipline, or will Lilienfeld’s and Wichman’s cries for sanity be heard? I doubt anyone of us knows the answer at this point. But what we do know is the purpose behind the move to “revise” engineering education. For this, we return to where we began—with Joseph Stalin, who asserted, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”