Here's an opinion piece from the July issue ofPEmagazine that argues that engineering schools place too much emphasis on engineering research by faculty at the expense of real engineering experience. What do you think? Leave your comments below.
By Paul R. Munger, P.E., F.NSPE and L.G. "Skip" Lewis, P.E., F.NSPE
From time to time, the subject of faculty licensure generates a lot of discussion, both pro and con. It is periodically discussed by engineering licensing boards and by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Seldom is there a consensus of opinion on this topic. There is, however, a very strong consensus among college and university faculty who teach in the engineering programs throughout the United States.
PE Not Required
It is the position of most engineering faculty and academic administrators that possessing a valid license to practice engineering is not an essential qualification for a position on the faculty of an engineering department. In most cases it is not a factor in achieving tenure, promotion, or higher salary. Even in states where jurisdictional laws define the teaching of upper-level engineering courses as the "practice of engineering," the colleges and universities simply ignore the statutes. In a similar manner, most engineering licensing boards are reluctant for various reasons to demand compliance. The real issue and question, then is this: Is the teaching of engineering truly a professional practice in and of itself? If one considers only the mathematical or scientific elements associated with engineering courses, the answer is "probably no." However, if one considers the teaching of engineering to include preparing the student to enter the marketplace with attitudes and ethical principles embodied by true professionals, and certain fundamental technical skills, we argue the answer would be "yes."
Academics argue that a requirement for licensure as a prerequisite to an engineering faculty position, or that even setting a tract for licensure within a specific period of time, creates a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract highly qualified faculty. It is also true, however, that when an unlicensed faculty member leaves academia to pursue engineering opportunities in industry, manufacturing, construction, or private practice, the absence of a PE license can also be a competitive disadvantage.
On the other hand, many claim that having professionally licensed engineering faculty will likely lead to an increase in students and young graduate engineers who pursue the path of licensure. If that were the result, we would say that is a good result, not because of increased numbers in and of themselves, but because of the greater commitment to professional values that are instilled in the graduate.
Real Design Experience
Fifty years ago many, and certainly most, of the engineering faculty were licensed as professional engineers. Most did not possess a doctoral degree. Almost all had real engineering design and management experience. Most also stepped out of the classrooms and into engineering assignments in which their engineering expertise was honed to enhance their abilities to be a more effective engineering professor. Today, most engineering professors go directly from receipt of a PhD into the classroom and research laboratories. Few engineering faculty today have practical experience in design, analysis, review, or management of engineering projects. Almost all are selected for faculty positions based on research interests and their ability to obtain funding for research activities—and even if they are not initially hired on that basis, these factors become necessary traits for tenure. Today, the focus at too many schools is on faculty engagement in engineering research (and the revenue these activities bring to the university) at the expense of real engineering experience in the subject matters they teach.
Maybe it is time that engineering educators, engineering accreditation commissions, and the engineering community-at-large seriously consider the professional school concept. Under this concept, the faculty would be licensed professionals, with experience in the subjects they teach and with proven teaching skills. They would be expected to maintain their practice expertise through periodic engagements to keep them abreast of real-world advancements in the engineering workplace. They would be expected to imbed a spirit of professionalism in the classroom lectures and teaching assignments. They would serve as mentors to the students they teach. Depending on the formation goals, a professional school of engineering could also prepare the student with supplementary professional attributes such as project management, risk management, and contracting skills. In this vein, the professional school would better equip the graduate to enter the true "profession of engineering."
This approach would also elevate the engineering profession to a truly learned profession, and in the forum of public opinion, the professional engineer would be recognized as a leader in the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.
Paul R. Munger, P.E., F.NSPE, is professor emeritus of civil engineering at Missouri University of Science & Technology and director of business development for Morris and Munger Engineers, a division of Benton & Associates Inc.
L.G. "Skip" Lewis Jr., P.E., F.NSPE, is chairman of H2L Consulting Engineers. He is a member of NSPE's Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee and Professional Liability Committee.
Read NSPE'sposition on engineering faculty licensure.
Published July 17, 2012 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.