Trusty Guide Helps Students Find Their Way on the Ethical Path
The NSPE Board of Ethical Review recently released its 60th year of opinions. The compendium of cases offers a unique catalog of ethics interpretation for the profession. The scenarios benefit not only engineers in the profession but also students who haven’t yet faced engineering’s real-world challenges.
The Board of Ethical Review is a panel of engineering ethics experts that has served as the profession's guide through ethical dilemmas. The board consists of seven licensed members who are appointed by the NSPE president. The purpose of the BER is to render impartial opinions pertaining to the interpretation of the NSPE Code of Ethics, develop materials, and conduct studies relating to ethics of the engineering profession.
The engineering profession's emphasis on ethics dates back to the end of the 19th century. In 1946, NSPE released its Canons of Ethics for Engineers and Rules of Professional Conduct, which evolved to the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1964. While these statements of general principles served as a guide, many engineers requested interpretations of how the Canons and Rules would apply to specific circumstances. These requests ultimately led to the creation of the BER in 1954. Ethics cases rarely have easy answers, but the BER's nearly 650 advisory opinions have helped bring clarity to the ethical issues engineers face daily.
Since 1954, the BER and its work has evolved with the profession. In the early years there was an emphasis on advertising and competitive bidding, self-promotion, collective bargaining, and supplanting. But as a result of changes in the law, especially antitrust laws and commercial-free speech laws, the emphasis shifted to professional competence issues, such as the signing and sealing of work, whistleblowing, conflicts of interest, and the engineer's obligation to protect the public health and safety.
Today, NSPE’s dedication to professional ethics is integral to the mission, values, goals outlined in the organization’s strategic plan.