Study Criticizes Engineering Programs For Focusing On Math and Science Rather Than Political Concerns

One_of_Diamonds_Mathematical_instruments_1702We recently discussed how University of Illinois math professor Rochelle Gutierrez triggered a national controversy over her work “Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods” in which she criticized math classes as a “tool of whiteness.”  Then we discussed CUNY Professor Laurie Rubel’s publishing of a peer-reviewed article in the  Journal of Mathematics Education arguing that the concepts of meritocracy and “color-blindness” are ideological precepts that work against minorities.  Now four professors denouncing the “hegemony of meritocratic ideology” and the “masculine culture” in engineering courses as hostile to women. University of California (Irvine) Professor Carroll Serron’s March 1 study insists that merit-based advancement in engineering is harming women and fails to consider political factors in recognizing engineers.  The professors criticize the focus on “empirical science, technical thinking, merit, and individualism” as the cause for the isolation of female engineers.

The authors object to engineering as being too focus on the math and science and not enough on political concerns:  “In its commitment to empirical science, technical thinking, merit, and individualism, engineering culture allocates what it sees as political issues…to the realm of the social and subjective.”

Of course, most of us view the objectivity and merit-based selection as the strength (if not the defining quality) of engineering. Indeed, like math, it is a field where results matter rather than gender or race — offering a merit-based system to minority academics. Yet, these professors object to the “valorization of ‘technical’ prowess at the expense of ‘socially focused’ work processes, depoliticizes the gendered structure of the profession.”

They also criticize female engineers for focusing on advancing through their merits instead of demanding the political consideration be given greater weight: “Rather than telling what [some researchers] describe as a subversive story…these women engineers are often reproductive agents of the ideology of meritocracy, helping perpetuate existing relations of power and inequality.”

I have obviously been critical of these articles as an abandonment of the core commitment of academia to objective and merit-based advancement. These academics however go further to denounce meritocracy itself.  The authors are , and

Edith Clarke became the first female electrical engineer and the first female professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin through the merit of her work — work that could not be ignored as objectively superior to many men.  The same is true about Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth who became one of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D. and became a brilliant industrial/organizational psychologist.  The did not achieve their extraordinary legacies by seeking to elevate political over scientific criteria.  Studies like this one do not do justice to their contributions and the qualifications of many such female engineers.

You can read “I’m not a Feminist, but…”: Hegemony of a Meritocratic Ideology and the Limits of Critique Among Women in Engineering” in the journal Work and Occupations.

81 thoughts on “Study Criticizes Engineering Programs For Focusing On Math and Science Rather Than Political Concerns”

  1. For an engineer, social justice is achieved by making things safe and inexpensive. Safety frees people from worry which is a social good. Making things inexpensive allows even those of modest means to benefit which is also a social good.

    Having been an engineer for 40+ years it has always been a joy creating useful things that benefit people I will never have a chance to meet.

    Engineering is not easy, however. Straying far from the engineering techniques and culture that have served society so well for the last two hundred years could have catastrophic consequences. Let’s not stray from the simple objectives of safety at the lowest possible cost.

  2. “Rather than telling what [some researchers] describe as a subversive story…these women engineers are often reproductive agents of the ideology of meritocracy, helping perpetuate existing relations of power and inequality.”

    The authors of the sentence copied/pasted above, Carroll Seron, Susan Silbey, Erin Cech, and Brian Rubineau , have disgraced themselves by publishing this myopic ideological drivel under the guise of a scholarly report.

    Remedial nursery rhymes 101:

    When at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try, try again attempt to leverage the coercive power of the state and force other persons to see things your way for their own good.

  3. Note that neither Rochelle Gutierrez nor Laurie Rubel are professors of mathematics. They are professors of mathematics education, i.e. professors of education focused on the teaching of mathematics. Carroll Serron is a professor of Criminology, Law and Society. Susan Sibley is a professor of Sociology and Anthropology. Erin Cech is a professor of Sociology, and Brian Rubineau is a professor of Organizational Behavior. Precisely none of them are professors in the hard sciences, and I expect a similar number of hard-science professors is going to pay them or their theories any mind.

    1. DaveL – we need to look up the title of their dissertations. 🙂 That can be a tip-off to their ideology.

  4. Here the Society of Women Engineers organized a one day trip to the university, to see the natural science stuff, for 200 school children.

  5. To begin to understand just how difficult engineering actually is, read Henry Petrosky’s “To EnginEER is Human: the role of failure in successful design”.

  6. Is there no end in sight to this leftist political correctness absurdity?

    There are many great mathematicians who happen to be female and their gender had no bearing on their success and achievements. Here are just some random examples.

    Take Marjorie Lee Browne, who was both black and a woman. Her goal in life: to help expand the mathematical education of minorities and women. She succeeded.

    Joan Clarke, was a cryptanalyst and numismatist and was instrumental in code-breaking during WWII, where she helped with the “Enigma project” that decrypted Nazi Germany’s secret communications. Another success story.

    Emmy Noether, who Albert Einstein once called “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” She developed many of the mathematical foundations for Einstein’s general theory of relativity and made significant advances in the field of algebra. Still another success story.

    All of these examples occurred long before the concept of political correctness was even invented, let alone infested every part of our lives. If anything, political correctness will slow down the progress and development of women and minorities to a standstill and put it in reverse. But that, of course, is the very point of the leftist ideology, as part of its overall agenda to destroy civilization.

    1. Emmy Noether is known as the mother of modern algebra, usually studied now under the rubic of abstract algebra. Earlier, her famous theorems might be said to illuminate Einstein’s General Relativity but more important are the applications to Quantum Field Theory. Her role in the development of 20th century mathematics is generally underappreciated.

  7. I would be scared to death to fly in an airplane designed by engineers who focused more on political objective and concerns, rather than concrete science and math. Objective reality cannot be ignored.

  8. There has been an escalating tendency of various stakeholders in higher education to allow the student affairs apparat to define architectonic institutional missions. The student affairs apparat is gnerally the issue of our useless teachers’ colleges and define institutional missions as being a function of their worthless social work projects. These professors are a consequence of the infection of the pathologies of the student affairs apparat into faculty hiring.

    There are two sets of people failing here. The first set would be the trustees. They have it in their power to see to it that this stops tomorrow. They do nothing. The other set would be the faculty, who are taken up with status signalling and jonesing for more perks. Those not helping to solve the problem are part of it.

  9. I’m boggled. I can think of few actions more likely to discredit women in STEM pursuits. As a female gifted in math and science during my education in the 60s, when things were so much worse for women, it serves no one to assert that women should advance without merit.

    Women who have fought for equal rights and education before us were tough and resilient. Serron’s actions shame them and portend risks to all our lives traveling the bridges and constructs built by incompetence. It’s bad enough watching white men whine and deplore the loss of perks and privilege. To hear women also ask to be returned to a protected era is the ultimate absurdity.

    1. Ah, the bigotry of low expectations rears its head yet again:
      Implicit message: Women are too stupid to compete intellectually with men in engineering thus they need unfair advantages to succeed.
      Appropriate Response: STHU Professor Serron!

  10. Well heck, if people are going to talk about bridge failures, who can forget one of the worst poems of all time by one of the worst poets of all time? And these immortal lines:

    By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
    That your central girders would not have given way,
    At least many sensible men do say,
    Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
    At least many sensible men confesses,
    For the stronger we our houses do build,
    The less chance we have of being killed.

    Here is the full poem, and a link to whole lot of McGonagalliana:

    The Tay Bridge Disaster

    Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    ’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
    And the wind it blew with all its might,
    And the rain came pouring down,
    And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
    And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
    “I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

    When the train left Edinburgh
    The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
    But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
    Which made their hearts for to quail,
    And many of the passengers with fear did say-
    “I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

    But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
    Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
    And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    So the train sped on with all its might,
    And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
    And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
    Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
    With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
    And wish them all a happy New Year.

    So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
    Until it was about midway,
    Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
    And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
    The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
    Because ninety lives had been taken away,
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
    The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
    And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
    Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
    And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
    Which fill’d all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
    And made them for to turn pale,
    Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
    How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    It must have been an awful sight,
    To witness in the dusky moonlight,
    While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
    Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
    Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
    I must now conclude my lay
    By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
    That your central girders would not have given way,
    At least many sensible men do say,
    Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
    At least many sensible men confesses,
    For the stronger we our houses do build,
    The less chance we have of being killed.

    http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-tay-bridge-disaster

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  11. Then they can build more bridges like the one in Florida that collapsed. Stupid is as stupid does in the Stupid Party.

    1. If you’re talking about the Sunshine Skyway bridge, it fell because a barge rammed into it. I never heard anyone claim it was due to poor engineering.

      1. He’s talking about the pedestrian bridge constructed between two halves of the Florida International University campus. The bridge collapsed and killed six motorists who were waiting at a traffic light.

        1. Oh, of course. Silly me. I was living in Tampa at the time of the Skyway disaster so it’s pretty much stuck in my head.

        2. Who in the world would allow traffic to go underneath an unfinished bridge, especially during a stress test? What’s wrong with their procurement system for them to hire a company with a history of failure? How much money did they spend on a pedestrian bridge in the first place, and did they really “need” it?

          There is too little accountability in government – not in procurement, not in spending money wisely, and not for failure. Anyone in doubt of the benefits of a meritocracy should investigate the misuse of funds and lack of accountability in government, whose employment is the opposite of a meritocracy. Make a mess and waste billions of dollars and you might just be voted governor of CA…again!

      2. FFS – I am talking about the one at Florida International University that just fell down crushing several people on the street in their cars.

  12. Funny, the sciences used to be the last holdout against the politicization of universities. Well, except for the life sciences, of course.

    “Now four professors denouncing the “hegemony of meritocratic ideology” and the “masculine culture” in engineering courses as hostile to women. University of California (Irvine) Professor Carroll Serron’s March 1 study insists that merit-based advancement in engineering is harming women and fails to consider political factors in recognizing engineers. The professors criticize the focus on “empirical science, technical thinking, merit, and individualism” as the cause for the isolation of female engineers.”

    Right. How are you supposed to grade, then? You got the answer wrong, but A+ for the creativity of your erroneous proof? Your bridge fell down, but A for effort?

    If they lower the bar for women in math and engineering, then the same thing will happen to them that happened to African Americans. People will assume that they skated by on their gender, and that they are not as skilled as someone who got by on merit. Because, as we all know, a meritocracy judges quality. It does not judge race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or politics. It judges the quality of your work. So if you oppose that, you want to be judged on the identity politics number line.

    I have seen this in the sciences, where women who had absolutely no business being there at all are in management. They make the diversity numbers look good. It’s such a shame, because before that practice, you would rightly assume that a woman worked really hard to get where she was.

    This is a disservice to women and, frankly, offensive. How dare they imply that women cannot compete on an equal playing field in the real of technical thinking and merit?

    I would also like to take this moment to point out the difficulties that women face in general in advancement. I am happy that we women have so many choices before us. Choices have consequences, and we should not be insulated from them merely because we are women, if we want to be treated equally. Where this comes into play is when the majority of women in the workforce get married and have children. Then they take maternity leave. Stop wanting to put in massive amounts of overtime. If they are the more maternal of the pair, then they are the ones who take off the most time for when their children are sick. When you have more than one child, there are times in their younger years when someone is always sick. That has the consequence that you are just not there at work. Unless you clone yourself, you cannot be in two places at once. That means that you miss time working on projects. That means that you may not get promoted at the same pace as ether a woman or a man who is there, putting in the time. That means that over time, your pay will not be the same as the man or woman who started the same date as you, but who did not take all that time off. That also means that if you are the hiring manager for a job that absolutely, cannot, be easily replaced with a temp, and that has deadlines that are far reaching and that absolutely, cannot be missed, you may have reservations about hiring someone who just got married and plans to have 5 children, while working. That, too, is a meritocracy, and reality. This also means that if you need to speak up to promote your ideas, then you need to speak up. No one should have to cajole your contributions from you because you are a woman.

    I love when jobs are family friendly, but not all jobs can be. It is unfair to give women the ability to work and have a family, but then penalize men who work longer hours than them and take less time off. When you proclaim that women and men should make exactly the same, no matter how much time they take off or how little overtime they work, then that is not a meritocracy. It makes assumptions about that pay gap. If the company really is misogynistic, and treats women with disparity regardless of merit, then by all means they should face consequences themselves.

    The only fair system is a meritocracy. A woman who produces the same quality work, the same time, and the same effort as her cohorts should be paid and advance the same.

    True freedom means that a woman has the right to choose whether or not she gets married, has kids, and/or has a career. Each of those choices carry consequences, and as a responsible adult, she faces them.

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