First-Hand:Challenges IEEE Faced Supporting Ethical Behavior and Professionalism
Challenges IEEE Faced Supporting Ethical Behavior and Professionalism
Walter L. Elden, P.E.(Ret), IEEE Life Senior Member, IEEE Member Conduct and Ethics Committees, 1996-1998, IEEE Life Member of the Society on the Social Implications of Technology
This article provides my personal experiences and viewpoints, recalled from over the 50 years I have been a member of the IEEE, watching and experiencing some of the challenges IEEE faced in supporting ethical behavior and professionalism of its members. While I believe most of the other IEEE Global History Network, GHN, articles will deal with Technological matters, I have chosen Professional matters as my main topic area, as a result of the IEEE membership voting to change its Constitution in 1972 to add Professional to its already well established Technical Activities.
I believe there were two basic "professional activities" problems over the years, from the era of 1912,which led to IEEE having severe challenges in the ethical and professionalism areas until arising strongly in the early 1970's. Both of these had their genesis in the early transformation which occurred in one of IEEE's predecessor societies, the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or the AIEE. This was documented well by Edwin T. Layton, Jr. in his book "The Revolt of the Engineers" (The Johns Hopkins university Press, 1986).
The first and earliest basic issue was that "businessmen" wanted full membership in the AIEE, so they could direct its interests and activities away from the "professional" interests and activities of the founding "practicing" engineers, and toward the business interests of utilities and other industries which they managed. They accomplished this when the New York State Supreme Court ruled in their favor over a suit brought to broaden membership rules to include them as "engineers" too in the AIEE.
The second issue followed this takeover of the AIEE by "businessmen" in which this time they used their corporate political power in the AIEE and industry to cause "practicing engineers" who where engaged in industry, to be exempt from being required to obtain and hold a valid legal Professional Engineer's license. This action in essence killed any motivation of the vast number of industry engineers from becoming licensed "professionals", as was envisioned by the earliest practicing founding engineers of the AIEE. By not holding a P.E. license, they were not held accountable to a legal Code of Professional Conduct, ethics, in their industry practices. Industry's argument for this change was that they, the corporation, would be held liable for engineering errors in practice of their products and services.