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ABET and “Don’t Lower the Bar”…what might follow?

In the wake of this week’s election results, I thought that I would share some background on the (proposed) changes to ABET, the engineering accreditation system. You know, that group that makes undergraduate degrees “worth” something. One of my committee members, Donna Riley, penned a post back in February against these changes. These changes that would continue to narrow the focus of what “belongs” in engineering education.

Another thing to specifically consider with these changes is what it does to the ethical standards. Quoting a Riley and Slaton essay from Inside Higher Ed, (font changes are my own emphasis)

In at least one way ABET’s new draft criteria weaken the foundational idea of engineering as a professional collective, and in backing away from its historic position as disciplinary steward the organization may well cause lasting damage to its domain. Note that ABET has replaced the existing criterion that students attain “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility with a required “ability to demonstrate ethical principles.”

These are not equivalent, and we see a real risk of a deprofessionalization of engineering in this apparent move to detach practitioners’ decision making from disciplinary norms. Once personal morality can stand in for collective, professional responsibility, engineering is reduced to a vocation, its practitioners untethered to any consensus regarding societal welfare.

We do not advocate for a singular ethical framework but rather for a shared profession-level commitment to working through the contentious matters inhering in ethics, a commitment the new criterion leaves aside. How could such a turn away from common purpose not further weaken American STEM workers on the global stage?


And in light of this course’s focus on ethics….from the undergraduate standpoint, would this course be a required part of the curriculum? What box would this end up checking? For grad students….does this course fit your plan of study?


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