Letter To The Editor

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Dear Editor,

This letter is a follow-up to my 3 letters published in the last three issues of the fall term concerning the PDEng debate initiated by the Independent Review and the response of the administration to it.

I wish to congratulate Sasha Avreline for his excellent representation of the students’ interests on the PDEng Renewal Task Force that is presently revamping the course. Thanks goes to David Liu as well who is splitting his precious time between his academics, presidential duties and renewal task force duties.

The comments that follow are NOT to be construed as criticism of the renewal process. They are intended as criticism of the present PDEng incarnation, which, INCREDIBLY, is still in operation in spite of the findings of the Independent Review. In respect for the students and the calibre of the reviewers (one of whom is the President Elect of PEO), the program should have been suspended until the review process is completed!

There is also the danger that after the renewal committee submits its recommendations, the administration simply ignores their findings and carries on with “business as usual”. We hope that this is not the case BUT the following ethical questions should be examined and debated PUBLICALLY and this journal which is internal to our Waterloo Engineering community is the place to do it.

In its present and continuing form, the method of funding creates a conflict of interest which raises ethical questions.

The two interests that are in conflict are:

  1. The Proper Treatment of Students in a Professional Engineering Degree Course

Under normal circumstances the core program of engineering students is dictated by the material required by the profession and is inspected regularly by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB). Optional courses are given at the discretion of the various faculties at different universities but attention must be paid to certain requirements of the content of non technical education of engineers. At no time should funding be the motive to add to the already heavy load of engineering students.

Problems with professors and course presentation arise from time to time and responsible faculties provide avenues of complaint usually in the form of class professors representing the needs of students. If informal resolution fails then more formal structures are typically provided. If a course is “going off the rails” the solution must be swift enough to salvage credit for the students before the end of the term. Sometimes (rarely) this involves replacing the instructor. The point is that priority is given to the students’ need to gain the proper knowledge to proceed to follow-on courses in the next term(s).

  1. The Desire to Raise Funds for Operating Costs

There are many ways to raise funds to operate a university. The first and most obvious one is to obtain direct funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities according to the law of the land. Other sources are alumnae and industry. However when the addition of courses becomes a method of funding then fund raising comes in direct conflict with the proper treatment of students.

In this particular case, funding interests motivated the following actions which created the direct conflict:

  • The PDEng course was given in the work term. This caused most of the problems as described in the enclosed Independent Review. The assignments were too long. This meant that the students had to steal time from their employers or arrive for work exhausted and frustrated from the arrogant treatment they were receiving and outrageous marking schemes by which their work was evaluated. This interfered with the work requirements of employers who often wanted the students to work overtime when production schedules demanded. Students were prevented from enjoying their after-work life in new locations and cultures. In some cases students had difficulties communicating with the on-line presentation of the course due to their work-term location.
  • The PDEng course was expanded to 5 terms. The useful content of the course could easily be taught in a partial one term course consisting of 10-15 hours of lectures. Much of the content had nothing to do with engineering and the requirements were rarely clear resulting in almost automatic resubmission of initial presentations.
  • Normal swift resolution of course problems described above was completely ignored for five years. The students petitioned, cajoled and pleaded for relief from this irritant and got absolutely nowhere. They had representatives on the Senate, the PDEng Steering Committee and the Engineering Society, all of whom tried every avenue of complaint. There never should have been a need for an independent review which thoroughly embarrassed everyone. There is abundant evidence that if there had been no review then nothing would ever have been done. The students’ needs would have been ignored indefinitely in favour of whatever financial advantage PDEng gives.  No engineering student of ours should ever be subject to this arrogant and unprofessional treatment.

Here is the corresponding ethics problem:

Engineering students who work hard on both their academic and work terms are being asked to do more work, much of which is irrelevant to their program, in order that their faculty qualifies for more support and are thus being used as involuntary fund raisers. They already have huge workloads and pay large tuitions and assume considerable debt to get their education. As citizens and students they are entitled to be funded by taxpayers for their education without being put to work by their faculty to do so.

If this method of funding continues to be allowed, more and more faculties and universities will adopt it; thus increasing this misuse of students.

This entire fiasco has set a terrible example for 5000 engineering students. I make reference to the article written by two students in the November 18 issue of Iron Warrior. In it the authors, Tamir Duberstein and Samuel Huberman, both Mechanical Engineering students, very cleverly show what PDEng actually taught the students … a sobering statement of the cynicism created by the administration. The irony is that the PDEng course, which is supposed to teach engineering ethics, became the vehicle of this unethical behaviour. The students were well aware that they were being used after five years of being stone-walled.


  1. No core course can be added to a professional engineering program without the approval of CEAB. This approval must include an examination of the length as well as the content of the course. This will prevent the padding of content with useless material.
  1. No funding can be obtained for non-core courses except voluntary ones (non-technical electives or courses in the chosen areas of specialization). This will prevent “side-door” or “creative” funding by the addition of “required” work.
  1. There must be a complete accounting for every red cent of PDEng funding. Otherwise the students will not trust that the new version of PDEng is not simply new labels on old bottles. Everybody must be informed of the following:
  • How much money comes from the Ministry per year to fund PDEng and for what is it used?
  • What financial advantage is gained by presenting PDEng in the work terms, a practice which causes most of the problems?
  • What financial advantage is gained by increasing the length of the course to cover five terms? This practice caused all the extraneous and useless material to be added to the course.

We must eliminate “bottom-line” morality that places growth and “being number one” above fair treatment of our hard working students and above ethical practice which is observed as example by these very students.

Yours truly

Donald A Fraser,

Senior Demonstrator and Head TA (retired)

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