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Jewish World Review April 8, 2004 / 17 Nissan, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Social engineering 101 | It doesn't reflect well on San Francisco State University that President Robert Corrigan has announced that he is considering axing the entire School of Engineering to close a budget gap. The university has no shortage of courses that appear short on academics and long on liberal brainwashing — you know, courses in majors that prepare students for careers as low-paid malcontent activists. Yet Corrigan wants to kill a program that actually enables poor and minority Bay Area students to learn in-demand, high-level skills with which they can make good money.

What gives? Does Corrigan think that if he puts the screws to students who actually spend their days and nights studying, he won't have to endure protests that would surely follow if he proposed cutting courses in majors in which the students already know everything and hence have the leisure time to engage in political protest?

Or, as others in academe have suggested, is this proposal Corrigan's ham-handed way of suggesting the dumbest cut imaginable in order to scare some funding out of Sacramento?

If so, Corrigan is only hurting his own institution. Word is that Gov. Schwarzenegger's team sent out the message to California college administrators that institutions willing to cut waste in these tight times would be rewarded. Corrigan's gambit sends the opposite message — that some schools are willing to cut academic meat, while sparing junk-food scholarship.

Corrigan's idea for saving $2.5 million — in the face of a $14 million gap — and shortchanging 700 engineering students led me to the S.F. State Web site to take a look at some of the university's other classes — the ones Corrigan apparently doesn't want to eliminate.

Hmmmm. Raza Studies. Recreational and Leisure Studies. Women Studies.

My fave: The Institute on Sexuality, Social Inequality and Health.

It makes you wonder if the guys in Engineering should rename their discipline. You know, make it the School of Engineering, Structural Inequality and Disparity Dynamics. Even better: the School of Social Engineering. Then maybe engineering wouldn't be expendable.

Bill Nott, a vice president with the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, was disappointed to read in the San Francisco Chronicle that S.F. State's School of Engineering might have a date with planned obsolescence. It's a tough break for students who are working long and hard to get ahead, said Nott.

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"Engineering is tough," he said. "It's a lot of math, a lot of science, and the problems are difficult. It's not one of those things where you can miss a course and get through it, and just expound back to the teachers what they want to hear."

Not expound back to teachers what they want to hear? No wonder Engineering may be doomed.

If they want to save their hallowed hall, the pocket protector set at the School of E should start writing course descriptions with more B.S. (and I don't mean bachelor's of science) — and less promise of "a practical education that emphasizes applications" or a "solid foundation in mathematics and sciences."

So the engineering profs need to dump words like: design, chemistry, physics, mechanics and projects (unless they're "group projects"). Replace those words with the scholars' siren songs — "strategies," "addressing issues," interfacing with "stakeholders," "promoting change" and classes that put an "emphasis on personal experience." In academia, exercises are supposed to prompt students to "reflect" — not, as happens in the School of Engineering, to "solve."

Let professors with pens in their shirt pockets take a cue from the Urban Studies department. Henceforth, engineering course descriptions should promise to help students "identify crucial issues," to make the "electrical environment sustainable," to facilitate public transit and other "green" causes. Or ready graduate students to become effective citizens who can promote a balance between positive and negative forces in conflict in the global community.

Then, let the Department of Social Engineering end every course description with the magic words: "Special attention is given to social class, gender and ethnic diversity in the socially charged engineering environment."

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate