Hmm. You Might Not Want To Fly In An Airplane Built By A Current Purdue Graduate

I used to think some of the stuff in Atlas Shrugged was absurd satire.  This from Q&O:

The recently appointed dean of Purdue’s school, Dr. Donna Riley, has an ambitious agenda.

In her words (bold mine): “I 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 responsibilityde-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalizationcapitalism, and colonialism…. Gender is a key…[theme]…[throughout] the course…. We…[examine]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”


  1. Joshua:

    The first part of her quote ending in ethics sounds good. After that it's a train wreck.

  2. sean2829:

    If you wonder how things can possibly go wrong, you don't need to wait for the students to graduate. My alma mater is in the midst of a similar social experiment where the president of Harvey Mudd College wants the student body to reflect the racial and gender diversity of the country at large. The title of the interview "A College President On Her School's Worst Year Ever " suggests that things did not go well.
    What I'm wondering is, was there a move several years ago to place women in charge of science and engineering departments or science and engineering schools to change the gender and racial make-up of STEM graduates? If this has been a coordinated effort, problems with grad performance is not limited to these two schools.

  3. craftman:

    "de-centering Western civilization"

    I had one class in engineering school about Engineering in other cultures, or something like that. Basically the gist was that Central American and some Asian countries run diploma mills in engineering and the graduates couldn't do a lot of mid-level mathematic problem solving. We even had a 40-year old guy from Guatemala who was at our school and came in to one class to tell us how he graduated from engineering school in Guatemala but when he moved to the US he went back to school to get on par with everyone else.

  4. Joshua:

    I can't remember where I read it, and a brief search was fruitless, but women are disproportionately likely to enter academia with an engineering degree, where men are disproportionately likely to do engineering in the corporate sphere. I want every woman to feel welcome in engineering and science fields (or at least not unwelcome), but I think they're going about it wrong here.

  5. C078342:

    So she wants to produce "engineers" who get credit for wrong answers if their approach was, somewhat anyway, correct. And that F=ma is a racist construct. And that engineering solutions must involve no "racis[m] and colonialis[m]." I used to assume the hard "stem" subjects were immune to this crap but I'm learning I am wrong.

  6. alanstorm:

    Physics doesn't care about your sex or race.

  7. Tim Broberg:

    Interesting. Yeah, that top tier effort level really is brutal, and it's what makes those schools what they are.

    I don't think I could have been better prepared for CalTech, and I wanted to gnaw my leg off to escape by the end.

    There are plenty of universities that are survivable. There are very few Harvey Mudd's.

  8. John_Schilling:

    Just to be clear, Dr. Riley is not the dean of the College of Engineering at Purdue. She is the dean of the School of Engineering Education, which is conspicuously not the airplane-designing School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Nor is it the school of Agricultural, Biological, Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Construction, Electrical, Computer, Environmental, Ecological, Industrial, Materials, Mechanical, or Nuclear Engineering. So it may be that there is some containment going on.

  9. Curtis:

    First to be clear, this is not the entire Purdue College of Engineering. It is only one department (like Electrical or Mechanical Engineering) in the college.

    When she "taught" at Smith College, she was apparently in the Study of Women and Gender department but was an associate professor of engineering. This bizarre combination sound exactly like what you would expect:

    "Power/Knowledge: Using Foucault to promote critical understandings of content and pedagogy in engineering thermodynamics."

    "My scholarship currently focuses on applying liberative pedagogies in engineering education, leveraging best practices from women's studies and ethnic studies to engage students in creating a democratic classroom that encourages all voices."

  10. Patrick:

    A quick check of the link shows that only the first clause (ending in "underrepresented groups" is excerpted from her bio. The other parts are from course descriptions for two different courses she taught.
    Also, even though clicking back through the blog trail never revealed it, a bit of quick internet searching revealed that calling Riley "the recently appointed dean of Purdue's school" is, at best, misleading. She's been appointed "Head of the School of Engineering," which seems to be the branch of the College of Engineering (which is led by a dean, not Riley) that focuses on liberal arts for engineering majors, the engineering honors program, and interdisciplinary programs for students who want some engineering coursework but don't intend to be engineers. All of the actual engineering degrees are offered by the other "hard science" engineering schools.
    I don't have a horse in this race or any particular background knowledge about Purdue. But it seems to me like the blurb taken from Riley's bio is absolutely appropriate for the liberal arts foundation of a quality engineering degree. Even with the gradual watering down of what bachelor's degrees mean at a societal level, I think it's still vitally important that they expose students to varied perspectives and new ideas--that's what differentiates a bachelor's from a straightforward training certificate.
    If Riley really is seeking to subvert the curriculum to emphasize social justice ahead of actually making planes stay up, then she and Purdue absolutely deserve to be called out. But the easily-available evidence doesn't support this narrative at all, which makes me question it. A much more likely narrative: Riley's aiming to broaden students minds in their foundational studies while viewing the hard-science engineering schools as partners that provide the critical bulk of a student's coursework. And that seems A-OK to me.

  11. mlhouse:

    ma is the first two letters of MAN, so you are wrong, it is a sexist construct.

  12. The_Big_W:

    When 2+2 is mandated to be 5, a whole lot of really bad engineering is going to follow....

  13. C078342:

    I said it was a racist, not sexist, construct. So, assuming your tongue is embedded firmly in your cheek, I rest my case that these idiots are out of control.

  14. C078342:

    What is someone associated with Smith College doing in an Engineering School, or even a department in that school? The truths of physics and mathematics do not know gender, etc. If I were still in aerospace, I would immediately eliminate Purdue graduates from employment consideration.

  15. marque2:

    Could it be both racist and sexist at the same time?

  16. Andrew Garland:

    "wants the student body to reflect the racial and gender diversity of the country at large"

    This is blatantly politicist, hegemonic, and nationalistic. She is limiting diversity to merely our country "at large". The world is diverse, and the makup of Harvey Mudd College need not reference an arbitrary politial boundary conquered by cis-gendered, old white men. She should look for world-wide balance and inclusion. Anything less hinders progress to a fair, inclusive, and efficiently administered One World.

  17. SamWah:

    It does care about your intelligence level, though.

  18. DaveK:

    Next they will add two hours of Social Justice material to the Professional Licensing Exam for Engineers. What could possibly go wrong?

  19. DaveK:

    Nope, physics don't care about nuffin! It simply is.

  20. DaveK:

    While I was running a project in Saudi Arabia, I had one of my technicians go home on annual leave to Pakistan, and he came back with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He didn't get the raise he was hoping for.

  21. DaveK:

    Can I self-identify as an extraterrestrial and get a guaranteed diploma spot?

  22. StillAnOptimist:

    "de centering western civilization"? OK - Here is an idea Dr. Professor of Excellence Omniscience Sage - The libraries at Purdue are filled with books that are written by "Westerners" from a "Western Civilization" - Perhaps your outstanding engineering students can design something to destroy those books and ideas. When you are done with Purdue, move on to other campuses and demand the same of everyone.

  23. StillAnOptimist:

    Totally irrelevant. The fact that Purdue would hire a person like this, who writes like this is a signal that something has horribly gone wrong at Purdue - and this hire will result in more hires of people like this who are totally ignorant and illiterate about engineering and science - and viscerally hate anything "Western" (which in reality means the 'hard sciences/engineering')

  24. StillAnOptimist:

    hence, it should be banned/banished/outlawed - all traces of physics (and chemistry and biology and engineering) should be eliminated from this world

  25. Andrew Garland:

    To DaveK,

    Not guaranteed, but according to the estimated fraction of extraterrestrials in the world population, times the enrollment of HMCollege. A problem: what would your gender be?

  26. PhilJourdan:

    Guess I will not be hiring any Purdue Engineering graduates.

  27. Barton Smith:

    As pointed out below, Riley is not the dean. This guy is:

  28. cc:

    The goal of an engineering program is not to "encourage all voices" but to flunk out as many as possible. Engineering does not appeal to many women and is also too hard for some women. Watering it down has already been done in some schools where it is called a "technology" degree. You cover lots of tech topics without much rigor. Not a terrible idea but graduates of such programs are not really engineers.

  29. Barton Smith:

    It's not totally irrelevant. First, it tells us that the author of this piece is overstating his case by a large margin. Second, Engineering Ed is not leading engineering at Purdue. It's not about to either.

  30. John_Schilling:

    Right. Pretty much every university everywhere would and does hire "a person like this, who writes like this", dozens of them, to staff their Race and/or Gender Studies departments. Are we really suggesting that we want to give up on building airplanes because now every engineering student spends time on a campus where, in another building on another quad, someone is spouting nonsense? If Purdue wants to establish a Race and Gender Studies In Engineering! program, separate from the Actually Building Stuff Engineering programs, that may just be a mostly-harmless way of responding to the demand that they Address Diversity in STEM.

  31. marque2:

    Not really because the politics of the university is heavily weighed to the social sciences. Business - though it brings in the bucks, is evil so they are ignored. Engineers like engineering and tend not to be political so they get ignored so it is the idiots in the soft "sciences" and liberal arts schools that actually run the place. If the liberal arts and soft sciences start demanding "equity in engineering" all of a sudden you get a course. When I was in college it started with an ethics in engineering class - and no it wasn't about it being bad putting fake bugs in your code, but about all sorts of other nonsense.

  32. marque2:

    If he were in the US, you would be racist for denying him a raise.

  33. C078342:

    Not only is it too hard for some women, but it is too hard for some men. At a freshman orientation at Rennselaer in 1967 (and it was almost all guys) I remember a Dean saying, look to your right, and then look to your left. One of you 3 will not be here in 4 years. And RPI was quite selective then as it is now. I have no complaints re women engineers, having worked with them before retirement 5 years ago, except for one thing. THey get pregnant and disappear for long periods of time on their schedule, not the teams. With headcounts usually frozen, this becomes added work, seldom compensated for the rest.

  34. ErikTheRed:

    Perhaps Australia's epic fuckwit of a Prime Minister is a Purdue grad?

    “Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia. I’m not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure their assistance. They have to face up to their responsibility. They can’t just wash their hands of it and say it’s got nothing to do with them.”

  35. C078342:

    And your point is? I want an engineer working on something I may depend on for my life to be competent, NOT affirmatively ordained. Why would you want to diminish qualification for the sake of PC?

  36. marque2:

    The point is that you have no sense of humor.

  37. Ward Chartier:

    Dean Riley has lost sight of the needs of her two primary customers: hiring managers, like me, and job seeking students.