After our group interviewed various individuals associated with engineering, a common theme that kept coming up was that a lot of company success depends on the personal ethics of individual employees. To support this claim, other groups in our discussion section noticed that most employees say they do not think about ethical issues in their everyday work, but the issues that they do think about are more business related than scientific related issues. It’s apparent that we need to raise awareness among young scientists and engineers about the ethical issues that are prevalent in the workforce and also incorporate ideas about entrepreneurship into the education system.
At UC Berkeley, engineering ethics classes are requirements for only of a few majors in the College of Engineering and not requirements for some sciences, such as physics. It’s surprising to us that majors such as Civil Engineering, Energy Engineering, Chemical Engineering (within the College of Chemistry), and Materials Science Engineering don’t require an ethics class for graduation when these fields have a huge potential for controversy in dealing with the environment, government regulation, and society as a whole.
At a bare minimum, we believe that the College of Engineering should add an ethics class requirement to every major. Ideally, though, we propose that an interdisciplinary Haas-CoE ethics be developed and offered in the near future because it is important for business and engineering students to understand the processes of each other’s trade. In order to appropriately structure the class the best way possible, a committee of business and engineering students and professors that currently teach ethics courses should be formed. In addition to this coalition, we believe that including a few people working in industry (possibly Berkeley alumni or other individuals associated with Cal) on the committee would provide an additional, relevant perspective on ethics. Having a course that would talk about different business management infrastructures and technical related issues would help foster a morally righteous frame of mind amongst students prior to their entry into the workforce. In addition to this frame of thinking, the course would also promote open discourse on how employees, engineers, and managers can safely bring up ethical issues that are not only prevalent to their respective companies, but are also important to them.
Along with the ethical awareness that would be gained from this class, the networking between the technical and business students that would manifest is a great side effect of this course. Such connections would open up opportunities for partnerships to be formed that promote entrepreneurial and business skills.
The implementation of this course can definitely be achieved within the next five years at little cost. After the committee gathered statistics and attitudes associated with the ethical differences between businesspeople and engineers, the committee could collaborate efforts on designing a curriculum they feel best fills these knowledge gaps between the two disciplines. After synthesizing each respective discipline’s strengths and weaknesses, the committee would have the appropriate information to design a curriculum that would fill in these gaps. Although the process in formulating a class can be costly at times, the only costs associated with this project would be the necessary compensation to the committee for their time and effort.According to the UC Berkeley Academic Senate, in order to implement a new course, the committee must include a week-by-week course schedule, course number, course title, and grade breakdown and receive the department chair or dean’s approval. In the case of our course, this new class would require approval from both colleges’ dean.
Cal has a lot of kids interested in the tech industry and especially in tech startups, so this class’s focus on negotiating the interplay between technology and business should have a large audience. This class would also provide good networking between business and engineering majors. Many students join entrepreneurship clubs for some of the benefits this class provides, but this class will also provide units and fulfill an ethics requirement, so finding student support should not be difficult. In theory, once we get the word out about the class and can demonstrate that their is student demand, faculty support should follow. The letter to the deans of Haas and CoE should sway them to be in favor of this class, and should they be on the edge we could take a poll of engineering and Haas students to demonstrate how many would be interested in this class.
The course will be evaluated on it’s effectiveness and popularity after it has been offered for a year to determine how it needs to be changed. Should the class need major changes, the committee could meet again to make these changes.
In the long run, we hope that this course will accomplish two goals. First, we hope it will make it easier for engineering and business majors to make ethical decisions in what might not be their field of expertise. This is particularly important for the many tech startups that spawn out of UC Berkeley, as the people working for them have no established ethical norms that they can follow, and will likely be forced to make decisions that affect both tech and business. Second, this class is meant to serve as a model of interdisciplinary ethics classes. UC Berkeley currently relies on single major ethics classes, but actual decisions are rarely made in a field contained within a single discipline – they tend to rely on ethics related to multiple different fields.
Engineering C126 / UGBA C126 Syllabus
Units: 2 or 4. The 2-unit version is curved to an A/A- to encourage people to take it, even if they don’t need to fulfill a requirement.
TuTh 2-3pm F295 Haas
1.5 hour per week, by section
Course Description: Engineering and Business decisions are rarely value neutral and engineers will inevitably encounter moral dilemmas at some point of their professional practice. Furthermore, there is a large amount of overlap in the ethical calls that must be made in engineering and business. The course will cover ethical issues prevalent in the workplace, the pre-workplace planning room, and in the rest of the industry process. Students will learn through standard lectures, hands-on exercises and simulations, projects, and guest speakers from industry.
Class information will be posted on Piazza, and all assignments will be submitted to your personal blog at edublogs.com.
There is no assigned textbook, as assigned readings will be posted on Piazza. Lectures and homeworks will also be posted on EDX.
The primary objective for this course is to prepare students for a real life ethical situation in engineering/business and all the aspects of it that would not be covered by a pure engineering or business ethics class.
Students should be able to:
Identify ethical issues in a situation and come up with practical solutions for both business and technological parties.
Understand the positions of both technical and business parties on ethical issues, and understand why they would disagree.
Mediate disagreements between business and technical parties.
Recognize the role of engineers/scientists in a business setting, the role of a businessperson in a technological setting, and the role of either in a setting they are unfamiliar with.
Predict issues that may come up between business and technology in the design process from history and knowledge of the subjects.
Practice effective communication, mediation, and debate skills.
Pick a moral stance on a technical issue and effectively argue for it against peers.
Make ethical decisions in a real life industry setting.
Participation (10%): Students can earn their participation grade by participating in class discussion, promoting active dialogue on the class blog (edublogs.com), etc. To earn full score on participation, a student must disagree with another (or the teacher) with solid reasoning at some point in the semester, as this fosters dialogue.
Reading Quizzes (5%): After every assigned reading, there will be a short 5-minute quiz at the beginning of class. There will be true/false questions, along with a few opinion questions, which will not be graded for “accuracy” as they are opinion questions.
Reflections (10%): Students will write a series of 200-300 word reflections on the assigned readings. reflections should analyze readings from both an engineering and business perspective and argue for or against the author.
Individual Interviews (15%): Students will interview someone from the technical side of engineering and the business side of engineering on the ethical decisions they have made. Students will then post a comparison between the two to their blog, either in the form of a writeup, diagram, or other medium.
Debates (15%): Groups of 4 students will debate issues in their discussion sections. Issues will be chosen in class (identifying relevant ethical issues is part of the curriculum as well) and given to groups. One pair of people will argue one of of the issue, and the other will argue the other. Each group will be up for 20 minutes, so each person will be involved in multiple debates.
Simulations (10%): Similar to debates, groups of students will be given a situation and told to act it out as realistically as possible, in order to get them into the mindset of someone in a real workplace situation. Each student should get a turn on the business, engineering, and mediation sides of a simulation. Groups will invent situations for each other rather than their own in order to get students to experience a mindset they may not be familiar with.
Ethics in the News (10%): Students will research a current event in the news that pertains to the conflicts between business/management and science and talk about what class material is relevant to it and helped or could have helped the situation go over well.
Final Project (25%): The final project is a larger scale simulation. Student groups will design their own startup (or pretend they are in an already thriving industry) and identify ethical issues that could occur. For each issue, groups will demonstrate how they would solve the issue in industry, identifying where principals they have learned in the class come into play. Groups will also identify where what their business does could cause conflict with others (e.g. Nuclear power may be morally justified to you, but it is bound to cause conflicts with those that don’t believe in it) and how they would mediate these conflicts.
Dear Dean Lyons and Dean Sastry,
We are a group of students from the engineering ethics class E125. After interviewing academic and industry professionals, we noticed that many engineers face a mix of both scientific- and business-related ethical issues in their daily world. Though UC Berkeley offers many business and engineering ethics courses, there are currently no courses that cover the overlap of the two. For this reason, we would like your support towards the creation of a crosslisted Engineering and UGBA ethics course.
Engineering and business decisions are rarely value-neutral and new college graduates will inevitably encounter moral dilemmas at some point of their professional practice. From our interviews, we determined that the majority of ethical decisions relied on an individual’s ethics, rather than institutionally enforced norms. To us, this illustrates the importance of teaching individuals to think ethically through ethics courses. Current ethics courses provide the ability to think morally about one side of industry, but with the current growth of the tech industry and the great number of tech startups Berkeley students are involved in, students will have to make decisions in both sides of industry. Tech startups, in particular, have no established ethical norms to follow, making an ethical knowledge for their workers all the more important.
Open discourse between business and engineering students on these topics will ultimately lead to similar conversations carried out in the real world. In addition to enriching the conversation by bringing together students across the disciplines, it also forms an useful professional network for the business and the engineering students.
It is also important for business majors to understand the needs of engineers in the workplace (and vice versa), as well as be exposed to situations they might encounter early on, so that they have experience in dealing with these unique problems in industry. Lastly, it is important for engineering and business students to join in discussion about ethics in order to find a common language in engineering ethics and to form professional networks, since we continue to see the intersection between business and technology grow.
We acknowledge that there are a number of business classes offered through Haas and the College of Engineering, but our course is unique through its teaching approach and its relationship with a subject that has not been thoroughly explored at Berkeley: technology and business. We think the course should include discussion of current events, as well as simulation, debate, and interaction with people in the industries. The course should ideally cover ethical issues prevalent in the workplace. Attached to this letter is a draft syllabus for the proposed course. Considering the many new startups and businesses in collaboration with engineers and the technology they utilize, business and engineering undergraduates would be encouraged to take this course. However, students outside of these two fields of study are also welcome to sign up.
Our proposed course would be a good opportunity to sensitize undergraduates to different moral situations while incorporating ideas about entrepreneurship. We would love to work with you and your fellow department to make a new class applicable to the 21st century.
Brian Barch, Andrew Davis, Selena Shang, and Kien Wei Siah