Save Tulane Engineering – A Rally in Vain

Only one day after the announcement from Tulane ( that most of engineering would be cut, and the remainder merged with the sciences in the new Science and Engineering department, there’s already a counter-movement.

As much as I admire the dedication of those involved in the Save Tulane Engineering blog and movement, it seems to me to be a rash and emotionally driven plea. After months of deliberation, a group of people far better informed than the student body about the state of the university has made a decision about what will stay and what will go. It seems to me preposterous to think that Dean Altiero, who is to be the new dean of the school of Science and Engineering, would not have been informed of the decision process. It’s evident to me that this was not well-considered, given this quote from the letter:

President Cowen should have spoken to Dr. Altiero, Dean of Engineering, before making the decision to effectively cut our entire department.

In all likelihood, he is the one who decided which departments to axe. Further evidence of the emotional attachment and hubris in the letter abound, such as this bit:

Biomedical, Mechanical, Civil, Chemical,Electrical ,Computer Science, and Computer Engineering students are the most intelligent and diligent students in the most respected disciplines at Tulane.

I’m certain that some people from other departments would disagree. Which departments should be axed, then? Would they rather have a school full of financially crippled departments than no departments at all? This is a fight for the very survival of the university, and by no means do the current measures even assure that.

It could easily be said that I am biased — that because Biomedical Engineering is one of the two departments that will remain in Engineering, I am not properly concerned for the welfare of others. That may be the case, but I think that may leave me in a more objective position to consider the situation. I have watched the drama unfold as the Tulane School of Medicine has gone through similar turmoil, as rumors and opinions spread and blossomed like wildfire through the student body only to be found false after tempers have flared.

I will not sign the petition to change this decision. I feel that at this point what is needed is dialog with the administration, with our dean, and with the president. It is impossible for those railing against these changes to have been fully informed. I expect more of my fellow engineers — people whose lives and livelihoods are founded on the application of reason and knowledge in the process of solving problems. For instance, from the letter:

If you, or anyone else have statistics regarding Engineering at Tulane such as per capita earnings, grant numbers, donation numbers, or scholarship recipients please let me now.

Be careful what you ask for — you may get it. The programs that were cut also happen to be some of those in the most financial trouble, with the least research productivity. I can’t say for certain that this is the sole driving force behind the changes — I suspect there’s more to it — but if the desired statistics are acquired, they probably will undermine the “Save Tulane Engineering” movement rather than support it.

Finally, I should say that it’s easy to point out what you view as the failings of others. I do it in this very post, to some degree. What’s important is to offer a solution with your criticism. As a solution, I propose that we move on, find other places to go, and let things settle as they are. I also propose that if a strong case can be made for the preservation of one or more departments, that case should be pressed. However, I have not thus far seen any such cases. I have only seen pleading and emotion. If the “Save Tulane Engineering” movement is to be productive, it must be more constructive. It must offer concrete solutions based on real numbers. Simply pointing at other parts of the university and crying, “but surely we are more valuable than them: let them go instead,” is far from constructive. Should something appropriate and constructive be proffered, I may then be persuaded to support it with my signature.

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One thought on “Save Tulane Engineering – A Rally in Vain

  1. David O'Reilly

    I agree with your statement that a dialog is needed between the administration, our dean, and the president. In fact, a meeting is scheduled on January 2nd between the above mentioned and myself (a Phd student), the engineering board of advisors, the society of Tulane engineers, and various business leaders from New Orleans. What I do not agree with, and do not accept, is your position that Tulane’s decisions should be accepted on the basis that they were made by people more informed than ourselves. The movement to save Tulane engineering was started to serve as a forum to collect constructive ideas to possibly save the affected departments and to give students/alumni/supporters a chance to provide input since the administration at Tulane did not offer us any such outlet. Of course emotions are involved, people react whenever decisions are made that are beyond their control. However, it would be short sighted of you to write off our movement as purely rash and emotionally driven. Our efforts have given us the opportunity to get the answers that we have been seeking. As fellow engineers who understand logic, only then will we be able to truely evaluate the decisions that were made, and move on with the knowledge necessary to reach a valid conclusion on how to proceed with our lives.

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