Rigorous ideologues

Rigor: From Old French, from Latin rigor (“stiffness, rigidness, rigor, cold, harshness”), from rigere (“to be rigid”).

When we think of academic rigor, most of us will think that it means an uncompromising attention to important standards regarding a challenging intellectual exercise. We expect doctors and engineers to be rigorously trained, for example, since their mistakes can kill us.

Not all of us see it that way, though, including some engineering professors.

Prof: Academic rigor reinforces ‘power and privilege’
-Toni Airaksinen

A Purdue University engineering professor recently lamented the emphasis on academic “rigor,” calling it a “dirty deed” that upholds “white male heterosexual privilege.”

Donna Riley calls for doing away with the notion of academic rigor entirely, suggesting that higher education pursue “other ways of knowing” in order to “build a community for inclusive and holistic engineering education.”

I anticipated this stupidity in a post referencing Yale’s abandonment of academic rigor by granting degrees to English majors who have never studied Chaucer or Shakespeare. I wondered how long it would be before we saw degrees in Mechanical Engineering for students who never took a course in the Behavior of Engineering Materials, because Henry Bessemer was white and male. It’s worth reading that post to appreciate how standardized the language of these academiots has become.

Donna Riley, the Prof in the link above, is head of Purdue’s School of Engineering Education. The important word there is “education.” Her job is not teaching engineering, it’s deciding how engineering should be taught, and while that’s bad enough, at least she isn’t teaching students how to “uphold” bridges or skyscrapers.

According to Riley, rigor “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations—and links to masculinity in particular—are undeniable,” and “scientific knowledge itself is gendered, raced, and colonizing,” engineering is “inherent[ly] masculinist, white, and global North bias[ed]…all under a guise of neutrality.

To fight this, Riley calls for engineering programs to “do away with” the notion of academic rigor completely, saying, “This is not about reinventing rigor for everyone, it is about doing away with the concept altogether so we can welcome other ways of knowing. Other ways of being. It is about criticality and reflexivity.”

“We need these other ways of knowing to critique rigor, and to find a place to start to build a community for inclusive and holistic engineering education,” she concludes.

This is straight out of the postmodernist catechism, which actually goes farther than Ms. Riley directly reveals, by rejecting truth and knowledge in favor of emotion and group identity. Reason itself is merely a tool of oppression. For it to be applied rigorously merely compounds the offense.

My opinion of academic rigor is somewhat different than that of this embarrassment to the Boilermakers. I understand that the “Studies,” Humanities, Social Sciences, and English Departments would by now collapse entirely if exposed to logical thinking, much less rigorous logical thinking; because they “know differently.”

“So what?”, you might say, English majors not reading Shakespeare doesn’t put you at risk of a bridge falling apart while you’re on it. True. But it leaked from those former disciplines into Engieering.

Now, a highly paid leader in the Purdue Engineering Department explicity calls for professors of Engineering to eschew rigorous training or be labelled sexist, racist, and homophobic. Do they now have to issue a trigger warning before saying “hardness?”

What is “another way of knowing” the Mohs scale of mineral “hardness.” Isn’t the idea of a hard material penetrating a soft material inherently phallocentric? How does one discuss tensile strength, which measures the resistance of “loads” tending to “elongate?” How does one calculate the stresses in structural “members”, such as beams, “columns”, and “shafts?”

Well, maybe shafts is OK; viewed correctly. Women can be mining engineers, where shafts are obviously feminine.

Maybe it’s just a problem with solid materials. Here’s Katherine Hayles explaining French postmodernist doyen Luce Irigaray’s thoughts on fluid mechanics; an example of “another way of knowing:”

The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she [Irigaray] attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

— Hayles, N. K. (1992) Gender encoding in fluid mechanics: masculine channels and feminine flows. Differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies. 4 (2), 16 – 44.

Geez, it wasn’t long ago that I was reading postmodernist claims that standing while peeing gives boys an unfair advantage in physics – so boys aren’t exactly ignorant of turbulent fluids. Besides, the postmodernists insist there are no biological differences between males and females.. Apparently, inanimate objects and equations missed that memo.

The real reason why turbulent flow is a “hard” problem: Navier-Stokes equations are difficult to solve. They require academic rigor, which the postmodernists say oppresses women and minorities. Or, put another way, of which women and minorities are incapable. Who is sexist and racist? Who is ideologically petrified?

Who is rigorously incoherent?