Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

June 2013


A central theme in the past ASEE Main Plenary in San Antonio, Texas, was the need to prepare our students for an “effective industrial practice.” Most panelists stressed the fact that “nowadays companies do not want to spend too much in training.” The direct implication at the end of the plenary was that academia was somehow “obligated” to supply engineers with the “right skills” for these companies. With the increased pressure in cost saving, according to the panelists in the plenary, the private sector has suggested that academia has to build a curriculum “ad-hoc” so they can hire “good engineers” for their companies. However by modifying our curriculum drastically to suit the needs of private sector groups, we might be jeopardizing the long-term gains of our professionals and/or universities in pursuit of possible short-term gains for the companies. Where do we draw the line between the private sector needs and the academic mission? How do we maintain academic integrity in our curriculum without designing programs to satisfy the needs of a group that might not even represent properly the future needs of the country or our students? Is academic freedom and university autonomy in danger of being subordinated to corporate demands? This paper explores some ethical issues many universities might be facing when balancing the traditional mission of the university and the needs of productive sectors of society under new economic pressures. Our students might strongly support an “ad-hoc” type of curriculum because they might perceive an immediate advantage in getting a job as soon as they graduate. However, they might be losing professional value and career flexibility in the long term, which immediately raises ethical questions that must be addressed. Do we have to keep preparing them with our traditional curriculum or do we have to prepare them for a specific group of companies? Is it possible to do both in a four-year period that is already stressed with too many demands? What does it mean “to be prepared for a job”? Is the mission of the university to be a substitute place for “ad-hoc” training? Is the university a place aimed to save money for the private sector by eliminating training from their costs? This paper proposes solutions like certificate/training-in-partnership with community colleges, in situ certificates, and internships. These proposed solutions might provide a balance for reasonable ethical compromises.