The ethical engineer

In a world shaped by technology, engineers have the power and hence the responsibility to exercise tremendous influence on society. They must be able to solve problems not only with design and invention, but also with an understanding of the full range of human consequences, from the legal and economic to the ethical.

Under the leadership of professors such as William Kastenberg and Thomas Budinger, the College of Engineering has long sought to provide students with ethical contexts for solving engineering problems. Our efforts were given a significant boost in 2011 with the launch of the Minner Program in Engineering Ethics, supported by a gift from civil engineering alumnus Warren Minner and his wife, Marjorie.

After graduating in 1951, Warren Minner built a thriving structural engineering practice in Bakersfield, California. Throughout his career, he felt that engineers must perform under standards of professional behavior that adhere to the highest principles of ethical conduct. After all, as engineers, our paramount concern is the health, safety and welfare of the public.

The Minner Program supports instruction and student life programs that cultivate skills in ethical decision-making and problem-solving. To date, nine professors have completed the Minner Faculty Fellows summer institute, which seeks to develop a cadre of faculty who serve as leaders in the teaching of ethics in the College. The institute covers such topics as ethical principles, professional codes of ethics and engineering ethics pedagogy. The Minner Fellows develop teaching modules they use to integrate instruction on ethics and social responsibility into their own courses.

The Minners also provided for an annual lecture in their gift to the College. On Monday, April 22, Purdue engineering dean Leah Jamieson will visit Berkeley as the inaugural Minner Distinguished Lecturer in Engineering Ethics. Dean Jamieson’s lecture begins at 4 p.m. in Sibley Auditorium here in the College of Engineering, and will be followed by a reception. Both events are open to the public. I hope you can join us for this special occasion.

In your own view, what should engineers bear in mind as they tackle problems that present human as well as technological challenges? I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry