What is the issue?

Over the past several months, and more frequently in the past few days, several members of APEGN have echoed Gerry Suek's call in his April 1999, "President's Newsletter":
I encourage all members to stand firmly behind APEGN and their profession in this fight, and to support your Association in the actions it may have to take in the future to prevent this situation from eroding the value of an engineering degree and the title engineer.

I think that in order for us to "stand firmly behind APEGN", we should all understand which issue(s) we are standing behind. (I am personally unwilling to give blanket and unquestioning support to any governing body, as has also been suggested.) So here, as I see it, are a few of the issues that we could be taking a stand on, and some of my own thoughts on them.

1) Do educational institutions have the right to use the term "engineering" in programme or degree titles without the consent of APEGN/CCPE?

This is the question that CCPE and MUN are currently fighting in the courts. From where I sit in my red-brick and mortar tower, I think I have some view of both sides of it. It is pretty clear to me that it is not very logical for a university to offer programmes with very similar names that offer substantially different qualifications. Also it doesn't make much sense to offer programmes called "engineering" that don't qualify graduates to be engineers. However, MUN is governed by an elected body of academics, who, like all elected bodies, sometimes make seemingly illogical decisions. Arguments of the form "you can't do that" don't hold much weight with such bodies, and tend only to encourage them to try. Also, since similarly named programmes (at U. of T., for example) have been offered for quite a while without causing much stir, it was pretty clear that U. of T. could do that--just try and tell a Newfie that he can't do what a Torontonian can.

CCPE has clearly been asleep at the switch on this issue for some time and I'm glad that they've finally woken up. Regardless of my opinion, however, I don't think that any amount (or lack) of support from the membership is going to affect the court's decision, which will be founded in law, not public opinion.

2) Do individuals have the right to promote themselves as "software engineers" without being members of APEGN?

I don't think so, and I'm pretty sure that the courts will back APEGN on this, although I'm not aware of any cases specifically about people claiming to be software engineers. In my opinion, if one claims to be a "blank engineer" they are claiming to be an engineer who specializes in blank, thus, in Canada, they are required to be a member of one of the provincial engineering associations. If CCPE looses the court case on the first issue, above, APEGN will need to be particularly vigilant in its efforts to prosecute individuals on this issue.

3) Is "software engineering" Engineering?

As Dr. Parnas clearly pointed out in his presentation at the special meeting of APEGN on May 6, this question is really several other questions. I prefer to concentrate my efforts on the two questions to which he and I both answer "yes" (we don't disagree on the others either): Note that the word "professionals", above implies, in my opinion, someone who takes responsibility for their products and actions. For more of my opinions on who is a "software engineer", see this document.

4) Does APEGN/CEAB have the right to refuse the request of an educational institution to consider a programme for accreditation?

The Supreme court of Newfoundland, Trial Division, ruled "no" to this, at least if the institution is MUN. I agree with that ruling, although my opinion doesn't count for much (once again this is law, not public opinion). I think that if APEGN chooses to accredit undergraduate programmes then the accreditation process should be an unbiased assessment of the quality of the programme concerned, not a stamp of approval indicating that this institution toes the party line. If the Save the Whales University of Newfoundland chose to offer engineering programmes, can APEGN refuse to accredit them if Council doesn't like their party line?

5) Should APEGN/CEAB refuse the request of an educational institution to consider a programme for accreditation as a means of applying pressure on that institution?

I think my opinion on this question is made pretty clear by the motion that I moved at the special meeting of APEGN called to discuss it. I don't think that we should invest any more time arguing about it, but rather we should invest our efforts on the more relevant issues above, in particular the third one.

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Last modified: Wed 1999.06.09 at 08:54 NDT by Dennis Peters