Introduction and Opening Remarks
The workshop on “Engineering, Social Justice, and Sustainable Community Development” was held on October 2–3, 2008, in the historic National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C. As an initiative of the Center for Engineering, Ethics, and Society at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE CEES), the workshop was co-sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, with support from the National Science Foundation and NAE member Harry E. Bovay Jr., the underwriter of activities of the CEES.
“Engineering, Social Justice, and Sustainable Community Development” is the first in a series of biennial workshops planned by CEES on the theme of engineering ethics and engineering leadership. This workshop was inspired by members of the CEES Advisory Group (CEES-AG), who raised questions about conflicting positive goals for engineering projects in impoverished areas and areas in crisis. These conflicts arise domestically as well as in international arenas. CEES-AG noted that engineers and ethicists had not examined or discussed the difficulties such conflicts could pose for successful project completion. These goals of project sponsors and participants, which are often implicit, include protecting human welfare, ensuring social justice, and striving for environmental sustainability alongside the more often explicit goal of economic development or progress.
At the first meeting of CEES-AG in November 2007, the group (and CEES director) agreed on the focus for the workshop and developed an agenda and a list of potential participants. The group also established the following ambitious goals for the workshop:
Improve research in engineering ethics.
Improve engineering practice in situations of crisis and conflict.
Improve engineering education in ethics and social issues.
Involve professional societies in these efforts.
In pursuit of these goals, the workshop agenda included panel sessions, a roundtable, small group discussions, and plenary reports. There was also a planning session on the evening prior to the event and a wrap-up session immediately afterward that included members of the advisory group, session moderators, and leaders and rapporteurs of the small discussion groups. Follow-up plans include presentations at professional meetings and publications, including the present workshop summary. The workshop agenda can be found in Appendix A. The workshop planners, program participants, and attendees are listed in Appendix B.
The main body of this summary highlights presentations and discussions by the panels and roundtable. It also includes highlights from the reports of the small group discussions. Papers and PowerPoint slides submitted by program participants are available on the CEES website (www.nae.edu/ethicscenter/).
NAE member John Ahearne, chair of CEES-AG and director of the Ethics Program, Sigma Xi, moderated the opening session. NAE President Charles M. Vest welcomed the participants, and former NAE President William A. Wulf, who is also a member of CEES-AG, introduced CEES and the workshop program.
In his remarks, Dr. Vest emphasized the intricate connections between science and engineering and larger social, political, and economic systems. As the complexity of these interactions increases, he said, they can geometrically increase the difficulties of determining the right thing to do and determining the pathways for achieving sought-after solutions. Dr. Vest pointed out the need for engineers to adopt a global vision, citing examples, such as the moratorium on recombinant DNA research, the Montreal protocols on chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere, and the establishment of the World Wide Web consortium, as indicative of science and engineering initiatives that have reflected sensitivity to societal needs and goals.
Dr. Wulf then set the stage for the workshop. The great challenge for engineers in the 21st century, he said, will be addressing the ethical issues and responsibilities associated with increasingly complex systems and interactions. He recalled that in his presidential address to NAE in 2000, he had thought that “the appropriate thing to do would be to talk about the accomplishments of engineering for the last 100 years and the challenges in engineering for the coming 100 years.” Engineering achievements in the 20th century had brought people enormous benefits and some burdens, most of which had not been predicted and, perhaps, were not predictable. He said the complexity Dr. Vest had highlighted in his remarks demonstrates the ethical challenges ahead, and responding to those challenges in the context of increasingly powerful, potentially irreversible1 engineering innovations is the major issue facing the engineering profession.
Dr. Wulf described how he had established an advisory committee during his presidency to consider what NAE could do to meet this ethical challenge. That committee had provided a report that was the basis for establishing CEES, with core funding provided by NAE member Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Thus, he said, we have arrived at this first workshop in a hoped-for biennial series on engineering ethics and engineering leadership. The diversity of the audience and the workshop program, he said, indicates a successful beginning.
Dr. Ahearne and CEES Director Rachelle Hollander then reviewed the agenda and purposes of the workshop and introduced the first panel.