Friday, March 14, 2014

American Universities: Inmates Running the Asylum

Just a small example, one of thousands.  Student activists at the University of Michigan are attempting to get the university to inflict institute requirements for "race and ethnicity" studies on the University's Engineering school.
A proposal, drafted by members of the Central Student Government, aims to reform the requirement that all students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts study race and ethnicity before graduation. Moving forward, all students–even those in the Colleges of Engineering and Business — would be forced to take a class with a racial component, if the proposal were approved by faculty.
Enter Black Student Union senior Shayla Scales
She and members of her coalition have met with deans from multiple colleges, including the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering.
No, seriously.  Everything has to be looked at through the distorted prism of racism.  Aggrieved minority studies are just what engineering students need!  I wonder what the sky looks like on their planet?

Coincidentally, Borepatch ran a post today about a book from Captain Capitalist called "Worthless" .  In the post, Borepatch adds:
Some degrees are not worthless, they're actually less than worthless - they make it harder for degree holders to get a job than if they had no degree at all.  In other words, after the time and expense of getting the degree, it adds negative value to the career trajectory.  The "grievance" studies (Women's Studies, Minority Studies, etc) are a red flag to many potential employers that this person is a professionally trained troublemaker, with a well honed skill for searching out problems where they likely don't exist and creating a disruptive work environment.  Other than government agencies and groups like the SPLC, it's hard to see who would want to hire this skill set.
And that's the real drawback here.  Instead of, as Ms. Scales says, “I truly believe innovation lies in the crevices of diversity,” leading to great, new things, it will be a waste of time.  See, Ms. Scales, the universe doesn't give one flying wit about you, or what you think, what color you are, or anything else you deem important.  If you build that bridge, or that car, that plane, house, or circuit in a way that conflicts with what ironclad laws of physics say, it will fail.  You can bet your life, because you're probably betting someone else' life, too.  While it's hard to overstate how much I value creativity in engineering, as physicist Richard Feynman once said, "Scientific creativity is imagination in a strait jacket".  Imagination is imperative, but what we imagine has to fit with what we already know.  Diversity doesn't mean anything except diversity. 

I don't really have a dog in this fight, except that I want tomorrow's engineers to be damned good.  The demands on the field are always getting progressively tougher. As it is, bachelor's degrees in engineering are typically taking the student longer than your classic "four year" degree.  Four and a half to five years is pretty typical.  Adding more classes doesn't help.  It was extremely common back then for engineering students to gripe about having to take the humanities classes they had to take and I'm sure they still complain.  The cliche answer: it makes you a more well-rounded person.  In reality, it provided paychecks for the teachers in those other departments.  The scent of government student loans in the air led to every department trying to get a piece of the action.  (The other reality: take that English Composition class.  I spend more time trying to write intelligibly than I do in engineering analysis by probably 10:1) 

But here's a simple fact: an engineering student is much more likely to be able to pass any class they put up than for Ms. Scales or members of her group to pass the calculus and physics classes that engineers are required to pass (Cue Chris Matthews: the words calculus and physics must now be racist code words like golf or angry or constitution).  How about if diversity works the other way for a change?  Let's get the racial diversity crowd into the engineering classes so they can understand how the engineers see the world, instead of the other way around? 


  1. I earned a bachelor degree in chemical engineering in the 1970s. Yes, I resented having to take liberal arts courses, even though they did raise my GPA (easy A for the most part. The only way in which they made me more well-rounded was in reading source materials to refute the hogwash the professor was trying to peddle.

  2. BSChE in the '70s? I actually almost went down that same road. Interviewed at UF's Chem Eng department and almost signed up.

    I ended up CLEP'ing out of most of the humanities and crap. A total win from my standpoint: I got the credit, didn't have to do the homework and didn't have to pay the tuition.

    I think we should make the R&E students take the modern biology that says there's no such thing as race.

  3. I went EE because I couldn't hack Organic Chem ...

    And roger that on the english comp. It's the biggest problem I see today with engineers.

  4. Howdy All,

    1. Chem E? EE? Shucks, that's why I'm a Civil - grew up playing in the dirt, still playing in the dirt - and concrete!


    I do remember walking across campus Friday afternoon from class observing all the Frisbee and bikini's and thinking - enjoy it now folks, I'll get mine later.