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Collaboration between Private Sector and Academia: Are We Compromising Our Engineering Programs?

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.294.1 - 23.294.13



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Paper Authors


Rigoberto Chinchilla Eastern Illinois University

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Dr. Rigoberto Chinchilla earned his Ph.D. in Integrated Engineering from Ohio University. He is an associate professor of Applied Engineering and Technology at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) since 2004. His teaching and research interests include Quality Design, Biometric and Computer Security, Clean Technologies, Automation and Technology-Ethics. Dr. Chinchilla has been a Fulbright and a United Nations scholar, serves in numerous departmental and university committees at EIU and has been awarded several research grants in his career.

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Collaboration between Private Sector and Academia: Are We Compromising Our Engineering Programs?It was a central theme is the past ASEE Main Plenary in San Antonio TX that we have to prepareour students for an “effective industrial practice”. Most panelists stressed the fact that in“modern times companies do not want to spend too much in training”. The direct implication atthe end of the plenary was that academia was somehow “obligated” to supply engineers with the“right skills” for these companies. The “right skills” generally are derived from feedback takenfrom questionnaires sent to different companies, by professional groups or by advisory boardscomposed generally of private sector professionals. However with the increased pressure in costsaving, according to the panelist in the plenary, the private sector has suggested that academiahas to build a curriculum “ad-hoc” so they can hire “good engineers” for their companies.Universities by other hand have been traditionally conceived to be places where teaching criticalthinking principles and a combination of general and specific skills can be applied with propertraining in any environment. By modifying our curriculum drastically to suit the needs of privatesector groups we might be jeopardizing the long term gain of our professionals and/oruniversities in pursuit of short term gains. Where do we draw the line between the need of theprivate sector and the academic mission? How do we maintain purity in our curriculum withoutdesigning programs to satisfy the needs of a group that might not even represent properly thefuture needs of the country or our students? Is academic freedom and university autonomy beingsubordinated to corporate demands? This paper explores the ethical issues related with thisdichotomy that many universities might be facing and the need to draw a line or balance betweenthe mission of the university and the need of productive sectors of society.Our students might strongly support an “ad-hoc” type of curriculum because they might perceivean advantage in getting a job as soon as they graduate; however, they might be losing moreprofessional value and career flexibility in the long term, which immediately raises ethical issuesthat must be addressed. Do we have to prepare them for the “learn to learn” path? Or do wehave to prepare them for a specific group of companies? It is possible to do both in a four yearperiod that is already stressed with too many demands? What does it mean “to be prepared for ajob”? Is the mission of the university to be a substitute place for training or to save money to theprivate sector by taking out training from their costs? Answers for these questions and solutionsfor reasonable ethical compromises will be discussed in this paper.

Chinchilla, R. (2013, June), Collaboration between Private Sector and Academia: Are We Compromising Our Engineering Programs? Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19308

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