Letters to the Editor

    Editor:

    In the Oct. 14 issue, Frieder Seible addressed in a letter to the editor two aspects of Simone Santini’s recent article criticizing the engineering school’s close industry ties. First, he replies at great length to a flippant remark about Mr. Jacobs, a major donor. While Santini’s comment was perhaps unfair, and the reply therefore justified, the issue is essentially irrelevant.

    Unfortunately, this minor issue distracted from the substance of the editorial, an argument that by training young technicians rather than young thinkers, and by focusing on immediately applicable “”skill sets,”” the school does its students a disservice. I believe that this view may be shared by many students and instructors, and cursory research shows that it is not unjustified. In particular, the Jacobs School and the Cal-IT(2) initiative give the appearance of: conflicts of interest in choosing partner companies, severely limited research horizons, and open sale of the undergraduate curriculum.

    First, the 2000 Cal-IT(2) proposal lists seven associated “”key small privately held companies””: Caimus, Entropia, Global Photon, MedExpert, Panoram Technologies, Silicon Wave and TeraBurst Networks. Of these, Cal-IT(2) Director Larry Smarr is on the boards of two (Entropia and MedExpert), and three (Entropia, MedExpert and Silicon Wave) were started by current or former UCSD faculty. It seems unlikely, though certainly possible, that Smarr is on the boards of two out of every seven small high-tech firms in the area, and that nearly half are started by faculty.

    Second, the same proposal states that “”we will work at the frontiers of the new Internet telecommunications infrastructure at least three to five years ahead of commercial practice, yet tightly coupled to long-term basic research that will lay the foundation for products five to 10 years into the future.”” This degree of foresight is similar to or less than that allowed at corporate labs like Microsoft Research. Students should be aware that their view of research extends only to these horizons.

    The third issue, open curriculum-buying, seems most disturbing. Strong military-industrial influences have long been a fact of basic research, and are arguably necessary in an era of tight budgets and expensive science. But it seems both unexpected and disturbing that corporate dollars (openly) decide what undergraduates learn. How many undergraduate engineers believe they are paying for a particular company’s job-training program? The engineering school’s Corporate Affiliates Program’s Web page offers member companies “”leadership opportunities,”” including “”curriculum development”” and “”company-sponsored design projects as part of [the] curriculum.”” Will it always be clear which parts of the curriculum are “”sponsored””?

    This approach is also popular with Cal-(IT)2 sponsors: “”According to Nokia, ‘The university has been open and responsive to the needs of industry, and has initiated new curricula at the suggestion of [our] board. Programs initiated through Cal-(IT)2 will help UCSD educate students in the skill sets our companies need.'”” Students should ask themselves if these “”skill sets”” are what they are paying the university to teach, and how useful these “”skill sets”” will be in five or 10 years’ time.

    Seible says that the concerned student is “”certainly entitled to his opinion on the matter.”” However, I believe UCSD’s current and prospective engineers are also entitled to a clear, open and critical evaluation of what they are buying, and of what is being sold.

    Sean O’Rourke

    Graduate Student, CSE

    Political registration of profs is largely irrelevant

    Editor:

    Re: “”UCSD’s profs mostly liberal”” (Oct. 21 issue of the Guardian). Dustin Frelich criticizes the lack of conservative professors at UCSD, the UC system in general and American universities.

    Is there a large group of unemployed conservative professors, who, because of their political views, are not being hired? Frelich does not mention such a group, nor does he have information about the hiring of professors at this or any other university, aside from a heavily edited UC policy statement on diversity.

    Without having any such information myself, I would assume there simply aren’t many conservative professors. People with more education tend to be more liberal. College students generally are more liberal than the rest of the population. Why would these tendencies disappear for those with doctorates who go on to become professors?

    Frelich’s suggestion of affirmative action to promote political diversity is insulting to the intentions of affirmative action. It’s hard to argue that political conservatives have had any barriers preventing careers as university professors.

    I cannot speak for anyone else about Frelich’s demand that our education be “”fair and balanced,”” but personally, I believe one purpose of education is to gain an understanding of the way the world works. This requires us to challenge commonly accepted assumptions and explanations, which in many cases are considered “”liberal”” because the common assumptions are “”conservative.””

    That said, I have not yet had a professor who seemed to be blatantly ignoring the other side of an issue. Frelich excluded hard science, but the professor for my nonmajor biology class last year even went so far as to skirt around the topic of evolution, wanting to avoid any controversy.

    I don’t know about Frelich’s political bent, but his complaint seems to be a common one among conservatives. Perhaps conservatives could devote more time either to becoming professors themselves or urging their ideological colleagues to do so. Arguing as if there is bias in hiring will continue to get them nowhere.

    Joseph Eckhart

    UCSD Sophomore

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