Engineering Ethics Update
| NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ENGINEERING ETHICS |
September 1995 NIEE Newsletter
Table of Contents:
Survey on Ethics in Engineering
While the Institute has many organizational issues to address and resolve, it is equally important to begin developing and implementing programs in order to become an effective voice on ethical matters in the engineering profession. NIEE has only very limited financial resources available and, therefore, must rely heavily on volunteers to undertake programs. A member survey form is enclosed with this newsletter. The survey seeks to accomplish three purposes: (1) correct and supplement the membership records, (2) seek volunteers to undertake NIEE activities and (3) seek suggestions on activities and programs NIEE might consider developing. Every one is encouraged to complete the survey form and mail it to Bob Nichols. NIEE needs the help of many of its members if it is to be an effective voice in the profession.
Licensing Board Plan
Law and Ethics Testing Program for New Engineers and Land Surveyors
Dan R. Waltz, P.E.
Member of Washington State Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Licensing Board
Washington state board members noted that a significant number of complaints against licensed engineers in the state of Washington fell into two categories.
The Washington board was cognizant that other state licensing boards require their licensees take and pass a law and ethics exam, so they decided to follow their lead. The Washington board's primary purpose for an exam was to make the applicant aware of the laws and regulations of the state of Washington. Therefore, it was decided a take home exam along with a copy of the state law and regulations covering engineers would best accomplish the board's objective.
A test was prepared by having each of the five engineering members of the board write six questions with five multiple choice answers for each one.
The assembled test was then taken by each board member and graded. Each member had only seen those questions and answers prepared by themselves.
The test results showed a passing grade for each member of the board including the land surveyors. Nobody received a perfect score. A psychometrician, employed by the state licensing department, reviewed the test scores of the board and set the passing score for minimum competency.
Passing the take home engineering law and ethics exam has been
required for more than two years in the state of Washington for both first time and comity
applicants before they can receive their state license. Passing the law and ethics exam is
also included in many stipulated agreements with engineers before a license suspension is
lifted. The law and ethics exam is required where engineers are found, for probable cause
by the board, for having violated ethical or illegal laws or regulations in their
practice. Licensed engineers found guilty of more egregious violations in their practice
are also required to take and pass one of the Murdough Center courses on professionalism
and ethics administered by Texas Tech University.
Message from the President
Robert L. Nichols, P.E.
July 28, 1995, was the beginning of a new era for the National Institute for Engineering Ethics. It was on this day that the National Society of Professional Engineers rescinded its By-Law 18 which established NIEE. This action sets NIEE on its own independent course. It is up to the NIEE membership and its board of directors to make NIEE an effective force in area of ethics within the engineering profession.
There have been many accomplishments in recent weeks:
Dr. Jimmy Smith, P.E., has completed his term as President of NIEE. Jimmy served two years. He should be considered the father of the new NIEE. It was Jimmy that "took the bull by the horns" and began the process of restarting NIEE. He appointed the transition committee and worked closely with them. He also appointed a nominating committee which recommended that NIEE elect only a president at this time and let the new board of directors select any additional officers they thought NIEE should have. Bob Nichols became president of NIEE at the end of July. We should all express our appreciation to Jimmy for all his efforts.
The membership of the board of directors is composed of six members
representing engineering societies and 13 members-at-large. The members of the outgoing
board were invited to continue during this transition period as their experience and
background will be very helpful. Many accepted the invitation. The members of the board
Ms. Gail R. Bristol
Society of Plastics Engineers
Dale F. Means
Society of American Military Engineers
Robert L. Nichols, P.E.
National Society of Professional Engineers
Webb City, MO
Jose A. Reig
American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers
Jack K. Tuttle
American Society of Foundation Engineers
Philip E. Ulmer, P.E.
American Society of Safety Engineers
Eagle River, AK
John R. Alger, P.E.
William A. Cox, Jr., P.E.
Virginia Beach, VA
Samual C. Florman
Ernest B. Gardow, Ph.D., P.E.
West Hartford, CT
James G. Johnstone, P.E.
Herbert G. Koogle, P.E.L.S.
E. Walter LeFevre, Ph.D., P.E.
L. G. Lewis, Jr., P.E.
Dr. Margaret N. Maxey, Ph.D.
David G. Mongan, P.E.
Paul R. Munger, Ph.D., P.E.
Monte L. Phillips, Ph.D., P.E.
Grand Forks, ND
Jimmy H. Smith, Ph.D., P.E.
A draft interim constitution and by-laws have been prepared, which the board of directors will be considering over the next several months. The final documents should be adopted by the end of the year.
The Institute is taking steps to begin developing and implementing programs. Please see the article on the Member Survey elsewhere in this newsletter.
NIEE is embarking on an aggressive membership recruitment program. Plans are being developed to recruit individual members in the various engineering societies. Letters will be sent to consulting firms and industries soliciting them to become corporate members.
It is not proposed to incorporate the organization at this time. This will give NIEE the flexibility of affiliating with other societies in some manner if it is in the best interest of NIEE and the profession. The board may determine to incorporate at a later date.
NIEE is off to a good start but there is a lot to be accomplished. Please send suggestions and comments on activities that should be considered to Bob Nichols. If you are available to help, let Bob know.
The Cultivation of
L. G. Lewis, Jr. P.E.
L. G. Lewis, Jr., P.E. is a founding principal of H2L Consulting Engineers with corporate offices in Greenville, S.C. He is a member and past chairman of the South Carolina Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, an officer and director of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, and a member of the NSPE-PEPP Professional Liability Committee.
Headline news from Washington recently reported the personal use of government aircraft by certain high-ranking military officers. In Arkansas, a well known counselor to the White House was sentenced to prison for overbilling former clients of his law firm. In South Carolina, several prominent legislators were convicted in a "state-house sting" designed to snare politicians who were willing to sell their votes to special interest lobbyists.
In 1991, Rhode Island newspapers implicated a nationally recognized engineering firm in a $10,000 bribe of the Pawtucket mayor. In Pennsylvania, one of the largest builders of shopping centers in the United Stated planned a 70,000 square foot project in Lower Makefield. At the same time, the company built two larger centers - a 90,000 s.f. center in Logan Township and a 250,000 s.f. center in Patton Township. Municipal fees paid in Logan and Patton were $250 and $2,500 respectively. In Lower Makefield, the engineer submitted a bill approaching $70,000.
Unethical conduct occurs not with just a few unscrupulous individuals, but with a host of apparently good, successful professionals who lead what appear to be exemplary private lives.
My observations suggest that professional ethics are molded and shaped by three identifiable attributes. First is development of the professional as a moral person. Next is influence on the professional by his work environment, most significantly those principles displayed by his managers and role models. Third are those standards developed by the various professional societies and regulatory authorities that chart a path for ethical conduct.
Moral character is shaped by family, church, and education long before an individual enters professional practice. It may be argued that a person of good moral fiber, properly shaped, simply would not cheat. In a perfect world, we would need go no further. In reality, however, moral development is an unsolved problem at home, at school, even at church - and at work. Two-career families, television, and the virtual demise of family gatherings as a forum for discussing moral issues have clearly diminished family influence over basic moral principles. And we certainly cannot expect our battered school systems to be a substitute for the family unit.
Even organized religion appears to be weaker than it once was. Society's increasing secularization, the growth of cults, the conservative church's denouncement of new lifestyles, the liberal church's endorsement of unconventional relationships - all these imply that we can not expect uniform religious instruction to strengthen people against temptation.
Instruction in engineering ethics at colleges and universities is even more remote, with relatively few engineering professors seeking licensure in their chosen profession - and still fewer choosing to teach applied ethics through course content. Spurred in part by recent notorious examples of professional and corporate moral decay, many engineering programs are now making determined efforts to reintroduce and emphasize ethics as part of the undergraduate curriculum. While such instruction in ethics is important, it is my strong opinion that no matter how much colleges and universities expand their commitment to instruction of ethical behavior, the greatest education in professional ethics will occur in the offices where engineering graduates work.
Making an ethical decision is easier when facts are clear and choices are well defined; it is more difficult when the situation is clouded by ambiguity, incomplete knowledge, multiple points of view and conflicting objectives. In such situations, ethical judgements depend upon both the decision-making process itself and the experience, intelligence and INTEGRITY of the decision-maker.
Therefore, making ethical decisions calls for certain qualities that can be identified and developed within individuals. First is the ability to recognize ethical issues and think through the various consequences of alternative solutions. Second is the self-confidence to seek out different points of view and decide what is right at a given time and place under a specific set of circumstances. Last is the strength to make decisions when all that needs to be known cannot be known and pressing questions have no answers. The corporate culture which surrounds the young and growing professional may well be the dominant environment that shapes and hones these qualities.
Written standards also exist to help the engineer chart a path of ethical conduct. Those of us who practice engineering need look no further than our technical and professional societies to find the canons considered by our profession to be the points of light for ethical conduct. Similar rules of ethical conduct are embodied within the professional registration laws by which we engineers are licensed. These rules apply to the individual practitioner and may also apply to the corporate structure - especially in those states where corporate registration is required by the licensing authorities.
These various rules of professional conduct, and the disciplined enforcement of these rules, are important. They do not, however, contain the final emotional power of commitment. Perhaps the individual's (and the corporation's) push for the maximization of wealth is the major obstacle to achieving higher standards of ethical practice, for that is the one identifiable issue embodied within those headline stories described earlier.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, in her dissenting opinion on the case of Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association records her philosophy on professional ethics. Her point is worth noting:
"One distinguishing feature of any profession is that membership in that profession entails an ethical obligation to temper one's selfish pursuit of economic success by adhering to standards of conduct that could not be enforced either by legal fiat or through the discipline of the market. Both the special privileges incident to membership in the profession, and the advantages those privileges give in the necessary task of earning a living, are the means to a goal that transcends the accumulation of wealth. That goal is public service."
The case in which Justice O'Conner penned this dissenting opinion removed the ethical constraints on commercial advertising by lawyers.
Ethical standards of practice have never been more besieged than they are today. Those with strong moral fiber, a dedication to professional integrity, and the ability to reason soundly must find the power to resist the attack. The leadership to nurture such power within the office environment is a responsibility not to be taken lightly by corporate management.
Ethics: An American Society
of Civil Engineers Update
David G. Mongan, Director, District 5, ASCE
The American Society of Civil Engineers represents over 118,000 civil engineers throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and overseas. The organization is dedicated to the advancement of the science and profession of engineering to enhance the welfare of humanity. Professional ethics is the cornerstone of engineering practice and represents a major element of Society activities.
ASCE has a Code of Ethics that was adopted in January, 1977. It has four fundamental principles and seven fundamental canons. These canons are further amplified with practice guidelines describing how engineers should function in an ethical manner. The executive committee and the board of direction represent the final enforcement bodies for the canon of ethics, however, the committee on professional conduct investigates charges of ethical violations and resolves misconduct issues not involving disciplinary action or expulsion. In order to ensure that every member is aware of the canon and the procedures used in conducting investigations of ethical misconduct, a videotape entitled, "Ethics on Trial" has been developed. This videotape represents a mock hearing based on an actual professional conduct proceedings. It has been prepared for use as an educational tool for sections, branches, student chapters, universities and other interested parties. The videotape consists of two parts. One is a presentation of the ASCE Board of Direction receiving the professional conduct cases data and evidence. The second part is a presentation showing the deliberations and results of the hearing. The two-part format provides an opportunity to review and discuss the board's thinking and reactions before moving on to the board decision. In addition, case studies have been developed from completed professional conduct investigations and proceedings for educational purposes. Obviously, the names of individuals, firms and locations have been changed. These case studies are intended to provide general guidance in the identification and resolution of ethical problems.
ASCE maintains a confidential ethics advisory service. Members with questions or potential problems about ethics from extortion to conflict of interest can get some confidential advice by telephoning ASCE headquarters. A member can call the confidential ethics advisory service telephone number and a staff member will handle the matter, if possible. The member could be referred to his or her own attorney or to the committee on professional conduct. Also, ASCE's outside legal counsel is available to consult with staff on any advice given to members.
Dealing with ethics violations and providing information on how ethics cases are treated is somewhat like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. ASCE fully recognizes that the best way to deal with ethics issues is through proper ethics education and training. And as such, ASCE has a policy on testing for professional ethics. ASCE Policy 376 encourages all state boards of engineering registration to institute a take-home examination on professional ethics for professional registration. The take-home exam should be based on the state's fundamental canon of professional conduct and other appropriate administration rules and regulations. It should be designed to demonstrate a working knowledge of professional ethics. Passage of the exam should be a requirement for professional registration.
ASCE also encourages a greater understanding of ethics and ethical conflicts through its annual Daniel W. Meade prizes. The Daniel W. Meade prizes for younger members (members under age 32) and for students are awarded annually on the basis of papers on professional ethics. Each year, a specific topic relating to an ethical situation is chosen for the subject of the papers. Past subjects have included: "Is it ethical to profit from engineering work arising from natural or man-made disasters?"; "Is it necessary to compromise engineering ethics to remain competitive in today's marketplace?"; and "Is it ethical to provide professional engineering services to those other than your employer?" The topic for 1996 is, "Does ASCE have a responsibility to mandate continuing education in order to: A) maintain ASCE membership and/or B) maintain professional licensure?" Regional award winners for younger members and for student members are chosen, and from those winners a national younger member winner and a national student member winner are selected.
Each year during its annual convention, ASCE holds a one and one-half day leadership symposium. This symposium is focused on younger members and officers of local sections and branches. Various papers and topics are discussed, many of which deal with ethical problems faced by young engineers. Also planned for ASCE's convention to be held in Washington, D.C. in November 1996 is a special session devoted entirely to the effectiveness of ethics training.
This convention session will present speakers to discuss the merits, pros and cons of organized ethics instruction. The discussion topics will include whether there is a need for ethics instruction in the engineering community, goals of ethics instruction, ethics instruction methods, descriptions of typical ethics instruction content and descriptions of past ethics instruction successes and failures. At this date, a number of papers have been selected for presentation including those from an engineering practitioner, a sitting state license or board member and an engineering educator. Much attention is being given to this session to ensure that it is well-attended.
Completing ASCE's current ethics activities has been the recent development of a discussion program for ethics awareness. This was developed by the ASCE Committee on Standards of Practice, and will be promoted by ASCE's Committee on Sections and District Councils. The discussion program was developed to be used at local section and branch meetings, or as a part of a larger workshop. The format for the program is to have small discussion groups of 8-12 people with a group moderator as the leader. It was felt that the small group interaction would be particularly useful with a topic such as ethics, since there is often no single correct answer. The learning value of the effort would evolve from an exchange of viewpoints. They may differ widely within the group, but when shared collectively, they provide individuals an opportunity to reflect upon their own experiences from a different perspective.
The session is intended to run approximately 1-1/2 hours. Four sample ethical situations are provided. After reading the situation, a discussion relative to the ethical situation ensues. The moderator steers the discussion and sample questions are provided for the group moderator to spur discussion. The situations described relate to ethical dilemmas faced by a young engineer relative to his employer; an engineer and his client; between two engineers within the same firm; and a situation between an engineer's current and previous employer. The program is being distributed at no cost to every section and branch within ASCE. Articles are being prepared for various newsletters promoting the use of the discussion program, and an article is being prepared for ASCE's Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. If anyone wishes to obtain a copy of this discussion program for engineering ethics, please contact David G. Mongan, (410) 512-4545 or FAX (410) 324-4100.
Message from Immediate
Jimmy H. Smith, Ph.D., P.E. Immediate Past President, NIEE
The past two years as president of NIEE have been both challenging and rewarding for me. We have had the opportunity to work closely with many excellent officers of NSPE during this period of considerable change in the organization of the Institute. In particular, NSPE presidents Walt LeFevre, Joe Paul Jones, Dudley Hixson and Monte Phillips have shown high interest in and support of NIEE. Last month, the NSPE Board of Directors took action that made NIEE an independent organization. I wish to publicly thank these leaders for their advice and encouragement over the past few years.
The transition from NSPE was carefully thought out and discussed with many other organizations, including AAES and most all of the technical societies. The transition team, chaired by Bob Nichols, and consisting of Bill Middleton and Steve Nichols, did an outstanding job in working out many of the details of the new structure. Their charge was to determine ways that NIEE could better serve the broad engineering community in the area of ethics. These three individuals did an outstanding job in addressing the current and future issues facing the reorganized Institute. My most sincere thanks to them for their time, ideas, and commitment.
As I pass the symbolic gavel to the new president of NIEE, Bob Nichols, I extend to him my personal appreciation for the extremely high level of commitment and interest he has shown over the years. I know the Institute will have an extremely bright future under Bob's capable leadership.
I look forward to working with Bob and the newly formed Board of Directors in the future. Best wishes to NIEE members and officers.
Facts about NIEE
Established in 1988 by National Society of Professional Engineers, with cooperation from professional and corporate ethicists. Activities controlled by Board of Governors composed of representatives from engineers, educators, and ethicists. Funded solely by membership dues and contributions.
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