Asee peer logo

ABET's Maverick Evaluators and the Limits of Accreditation as a Mode of Governance in Engineering Education

Download Paper |

Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Governance, Diplomacy, and International Comparisons in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count

22

DOI

10.18260/1-2--36632

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36632

Download Count

21

Request a correction

Paper Authors

biography

Atsushi Akera Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

visit author page

Atsushi Akera is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. His current research is on the history of engineering education reform in the United States (1945-present). He is a the current Chair of the ASEE Ad Hoc Committee on Interdivisional Cooperation; Chair of the International Network for Engineering Studies (INES); past chair of the ASEE Liberal Education / Engineering and Society Division; and a former member of the Society for the History of Technology’s (SHOT) Executive Council. Publications include /Calculating a Natural World: Scientists, Engineers and Computers during the Rise of U.S. Cold War Research/ (MIT Press, 2006).

visit author page

biography

Sarah Appelhans University at Albany-SUNY

visit author page

Sarah Appelhans is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University at Albany (SUNY). Her dissertation research, "Flexible Lives on the Integrated Circuit: Gender and Belonging in Semiconductor Manufacturing", investigates the boundaries of membership in engineering in the Northeastern United States. She is honored to be a research assistant on two NSF-sponsored studies entitled "The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education" and "Developing Human Social Networks to Identify and Develop Data Driven Metrics and Methods for Expanding Learning Opportunities Across the Lifetime" under the direction of Dr. Alan Cheville and Dr. Atsushi Akera. In addition to her academic experience, she is a former mechanical engineer with several years of experience in the aviation and construction industries.

visit author page

biography

Alan Cheville Bucknell University

visit author page

Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, followed by 14 years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education. While at Oklahoma State, he developed courses in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, he took a chair position in electrical engineering at Bucknell University. He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education.

visit author page

biography

Thomas De Pree Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

visit author page

Thomas A. De Pree is an ASERT-IRACDA postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine at University of New Mexico (2020-2023), where he holds a research appointment with the UNM Metal Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest (METALS) Superfund Research Program Center, and a teaching appointment in environmental sciences at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). His Ph.D. & M.S. are in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (August 2019); M.A. in Anthropology and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University (June 2015); B.A. in Anthropology and Psychology from the University of New Mexico (January 2010). His disciplinary background is in sociocultural anthropology and archaeology with training in ethnographic methods and cultural resource management. He also has interdisciplinary experience in political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and Native American and Indigenous studies (NAIS). His dissertation entitled, The Life of the By-Product in the 'Grants Uranium District' of Northwestern New Mexico (August 2019), examines the entanglement of sciences, technologies, and politics invested in cleaning up so-called ecological "sacrifice zones." See one of his recent publications in Journal of Environmental Management, "The Politics of Baselining in the Grants Uranium Mining District of Northwestern New Mexico" (April 2020).

visit author page

biography

Soheil Fatehiboroujeni Cornell University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-5129-7428

visit author page

Soheil Fatehiboroujeni received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Merced in 2018. As a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Soheil is working in the Active Learning Initiative to promote student learning and the use of computational tools such as Matlab and ANSYS in the context of fluid mechanics and heat transfer.

visit author page

biography

Jennifer Karlin Minnesota State University, Mankato

visit author page

Jennifer Karlin spent the first half of her career at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where she was a professor of industrial engineering and held the Pietz professorship for entrepreneurship and economic development. She is now a professor of integrated engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and founding faculty of department's Bell Engineering Program, part of Iron Range Engineering. She is also the managing partner of Kaizen Academic.

visit author page

biography

Donna M. Riley Purdue University at West Lafayette

visit author page

Donna Riley is Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

visit author page

Download Paper |

Abstract

This paper reflects on the significance of ABET’s “rogue evaluators” and what it says about the limits of accreditation as a mode of governance in US engineering education. The US system of engineering education operates as a highly complex system, where the diversity of the system is an asset to robust knowledge production and the production of a varied workforce. ABET Inc., the principal accreditation agency for engineering degree programs in the US, attempts to uphold a set of professional standards for engineering education using a voluntary, peer-based system of evaluation. Key to their approach is a volunteer army of trained program evaluators (PEVs) assigned by the engineering professional societies, who serve as the frontline workers responsible for auditing the content, learning outcomes, and continuous improvement processes utilized by every engineering degree program accredited by ABET. We take a look specifically at those who become labeled “rogue evaluators” in order to better understand how this system functions, and to understand its limitations as a form of governance in maintaining educational quality and appropriate professional standards within engineering education.

ABET was established in 1932 as the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD). The Cold War consensus around the engineering sciences led to a more quantitative system of accreditation first implemented in 1956. However, the decline of the Cold War and rising concerns about national competitiveness prompted ABET to shift to a more neoliberal model of accountability built around outcomes assessment and modeled after total quality management / continuous process improvement (TQM/CPI) processes that nominally gave PEVs greater discretion in evaluating engineering degree programs. However, conflicts over how the PEVs exercised judgment points to conservative aspects in the structure of the ABET organization, and within the engineering profession at large.

This paper and the phenomena we describe here is one part of a broader, interview-based study of higher education governance and engineering educational reform within the United States. We have conducted over 300 interviews at more than 40 different academic institutions and professional organizations, where ABET and institutional responses to the reforms associated with “EC 2000,” which brought outcomes assessment to engineering education, are extensively discussed.

The phenomenon of so-called “rogue evaluators” reveal the divergent professional interests that remain embedded within ABET and the engineering profession at large. Those associated with Civil and Environmental Engineering, and to a lesser extent Mechanical Engineering continue to push for higher standards of accreditation grounded in a stronger vision for their professions. While the phenomenon is complex and more subtle than we can summarize in an abstract, “rogue evaluators” emerged as a label for PEVs who interpreted their role, including determinations about whether certain content “appropriate to the field of study,” utilizing professional standards that lay outside of the consensus position held by the majority of the member of the Engineering Accreditation Commission. This, conjoined with the engineers’ epistemic aversion to uncertainty and concerns about the legal liability of their decisions, resulted in a more narrow interpretation of key accreditation criteria. The organization then designed and used a “due-process” reviews process to discipline identified shortcomings in order to limit divergent interpretations. The net result is that the bureaucratic process ABET built to obtain uniformity in accreditation outcomes, simultaneously blunts the organization’s capacity to support varied interpretations of professional standards at the program level. The apparatus has also contributed to ABET’s reputation as an organization focused on minimum standards, as opposed to one that functions as an effective driver for further change in engineering education.

Akera, A., & Appelhans, S., & Cheville, A., & De Pree, T., & Fatehiboroujeni, S., & Karlin, J., & Riley, D. M. (2021, July), ABET's Maverick Evaluators and the Limits of Accreditation as a Mode of Governance in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36632

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015