COMMENTS BY J. B. JONES OF VPI

EXTRACTED FROM THE EMAIL FROM J. B, JONES:

Bob,
Your comments on your accreditation service all ring quite true, and I found them interesting. I detect no errors at all. I would like to add a lot of anecdotes from my experience with ECPD and ABET, but as I started to do so, it kept getting longer and longer with a growing list of even other things I would like to mention. Enough is enough, so I truncated the effort because I am already about a week behind when I told you I would comment. The result is an attachment, ABETCommentsforRLY.doc.

I have been both a participant in and a victim of so-called regional accreditation activities. Those are "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" clubs that do very little good. (Probably the most good is done by the "self-study" that each institution has to conduct, but it is nearly impossible to keep a straight face and a settled stomach while reading some of those.)

Those current low fractions of SC and NA actions are a pretty good indication that ABET may be becoming one of the YSMBAISY clubs. We all know that schools and faculties and actions haven't changed that much in the past twenty years.

I haven't attended an EAC meeting for several years, but I suspect that if I did, I would be sickened.Thanks for sending me your document.
                      
NOTE: Nothing beats an old fool like two old Fools, JB

Comments on the paper of Robert L Young
On Life with ECPD, ABET, and EAC
By J. B. Jones

Why is accreditation needed?
Accreditation is necessary because each profession must take the responsibility of seeing that those entering its ranks are adequately qualified. The profession must publish information to help prospective students and their parents learn which institutions or programs are providing education the profession considers adequate, because these people are usually unable to determine this for themselves. Some accrediting agencies are little more than clubs of the "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" variety and consequently serve neither the profession nor the public.

Occasionally, someone asks why the maintenance of quality standards cannot be left to the institutions themselves. One of the reasons is that sometimes academic people do unwise things. Some examples based on several ABET evaluation visits follow.

At a large state university on the east coast, the dean of engineering said at the opening meeting with the entire visiting team and all the department heads present, "We know we do not meet the ABET humanities and social sciences requirements." The visiting team confirmed that this was the case, and so noted in the report to the institution. In the dean's commentary on the final report, however, he vigorously claimed that the engineering curricula did meet all the requirements. I was on a review panel that considered a formal appeal of a Show Cause action. One reason for the show cause action was that a department faculty held very few degrees in engineering; most of the faculty members were physicists. As a part of the appeal, the institution stated that it had hired four new faculty members in the department. The data presented showed that the four faculty additions had 13 degrees, of which only four were in engineering, and three of these were held by one individual. That individual had resigned before the material for the appeal was prepared!

A large Midwestern state university had received some Show Cause actions, and by the time of the subsequent visit had done little to correct the blatant deficiencies. The dean was over half an hour late to the exit interview in the president's office. The president was livid. When the dean finally arrived and heard comments from the visiting team, he asked "Don't you relax the criteria for an institution strong in research?   Deans at some other institutions expressed the belief that somehow strong research activity could compensate for a poor job of educating students.

Many deans and other engineering faculty members were unhappy with the ABET criteria regarding engineering design. I believe this stemmed largely from a widespread lack of industrial experience among engineering faculty members. Also contributory was the lack of emphasis on design in many engineering graduate programs.   I have heard deans of engineering say publicly, "I don't know what design is." All of us in the audience were remiss when we left these deans unchallenged or unshamed.

Faculty actions at various institutions suggest that faculty groups can be led astray by highly articulate and highly credentialed individuals more readily than other well educated groups can. Several examples come to mind.

One key to the effectiveness of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is that the quality of visitors is usually very high. Only rare exceptions occur. Of concern to me is that a review of ABET annual reports over the years listing evaluators shows a decreasing fraction of people from what most people would consider "stronger" institutions. One very capable evaluator I observed during several evaluations was advised by the dean of engineering at his highly prestigious institution to drop his ABET activities because they would not help him in promotion and tenure actions.

Carefully studying the documentation and participating in evaluation visits at several institutions can be quite eye-opening. Many engineering programs across the country are doing excellent work in preparing students to start engineering careers. Many of these do not have the finely tuned publicity organizations that some use to keep getting news and professional media attention. A study of academic "patting oneself on the back" could be quite enlightening and perhaps disgusting.
ABET evaluations are a far cry from the "evaluations" based on institution-completed questionnaires and opinion surveys of either academics or practitioners.

ABET has done much to improve engineering education The humanities and social science component of engineering curricula, as spotty as it is, is (or was a few years ago) stronger than it was when it was covered under "non-technical courses" and included everything that was not engineering, science, or mathematics. ABET was clearly responsible for the change.

A few years ago, the design component of many engineering curricula was abysmal. Many institutions have improved the design component markedly, and this would not have been done without the impetus of ABET.

In addition to these improvements across the country achieved by ABET actions, many institutions have individually improved their offerings as a result of ABET comments. A strong example is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI is an old engineering school with a sterling history. More than a decade after World War II, however, the institution appeared to rest on its laurels, and the quality of its programs dropped so markedly that an ABET evaluation pointed out serious shortcomings. As I understand it, three strong members of the governing board saw the ABET report and went into action to change the course of the institution. I chaired a subsequent visiting team, and it was clear that a new sense of mission and vitality were at work, had made significant improvements, and gave promise of more.   It was clearly the wake-up call provided by the earlier ABET report that had triggered the governing board action that reversed the decline.

A few times, EAC was remiss:
I chaired a team for a private institution in the Midwest that at the time had only one engineering curriculum, aeronautical engineering, for which the previous action was Not to Accredit. When I received the evaluation material, I was surprised at the earlier action, because everything in the material indicated that the program was accreditable. Reviewing the previous team's reports, I saw that both the program evaluator and the team chairman had recommended 6V, so I phoned ABET headquarters to see what had happened. The answer was that a strong-willed and articulate member of the EAC (who was no longer a member) had said during the meeting where the report was considered that there was no way that a former technical institute could have an accreditable engineering program. I selected two very strong evaluators, one from industry and one from academia, for the team, and we found the program to be superb. We recommended full accreditation and the EAC concurred.
                
At a private school on the east coast, the visiting team chairman arranged, before the evaluation was completed, a consulting agreement for himself with the institute president. This was reported to the EAC chairman, but no action was taken. The whistle blower was penalized.

Here is a list of the institutions I visited (and in case of name changes, the name at the time of the visit is used):

Southeastern Massachusetts University (TL) University of Massachusetts (TL)
University of Rhode Island
University of Connecticut
State University of New York Maritime College (TL)
The Cooper Union (TL)
Pratt Institute
New Jersey Institute of Technology (TL) Stevens Institute of Technology (TL)
Princeton University  
University of Pennsylvania
Swarthmore College
University of Delaware
The George Washington University (TL)
University of Pittsburgh
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (TL)
Clarkson University (TL)
Syracuse University (TL)
Christian Brothers University
Parks   College of St. Louis University   (TL)
Northwestern University
University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Illinois Institute of Technology
University of Detroit
Michigan State University
Michigan Technological University
University of Minnesota (TL)
Rose Hulman Institute of Technology (TL) Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Brigham Young University
University of Denver
University of Texas
University of Texas at Arlington
University of Houston
University of Oklahoma
Arizona State University
California State University at Long Beach University of Hawaii
University of Puerto Rico
University of North Dakota  
40 Case Western Reserve University

RLY Comment: J. B. Jones has recently retired as Chairman of a high prestige Mechanical Engineering Department at VPI and as a colleague in ABET and EAC actvities, I found him to be among the most knowledgable, fair and conscientious of that fine group.

A FINAL RLY COMMENT:
Was this weakening of the accreditation process done to mollify the few who could not stand the heat of a real accreditation process? There was concern that the criticism of our process might lead to the Feds removing ABET as the recognized accreditation group for engineering. But the resulting ABET/EAC process is so weak that I say let the Feds operate the engineering accreditation activity. Soon after the Feds start their activity, assuming normal government efficiency, I am sure that all the Engineering
Deans and most of the University Presidents would be enraged by the activity. They might even march on Washington in bitter protest.
But as engineering education reaches the depths,let us assume that a new Bill Sangster hires a new Gene Nordby and Bill says "Gene, will you help me begin an engineering accreditation process sponsored and partially financed by the engineering societies? Let us start with my ASCE and we will not call it ABET which makes it sound like an appendage of a gambling casino but let us give it a dignified and meaningful name like the ENGINEERING COUNCIL FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT." And a new David Reyes Guerra with a new John Alden smiled broadly in full agreement.

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