PHL 316: Engineering Ethics
Winter Term 2004
Final exam information
The exam will be written in class on Thursday, April 29, 2:00-3:50 pm, HM 109. The exam is worth 200 possible points. Graduating seniors must make arrangements to take the final no later than Tuesday, April 27.
Fresh copies of the essay questions and writing paper will be provided at the exam. You may bring into the exam notes on one side of a standard (8.5x11 inch) sheet of paper. If you bring such notes, they must be turned in with your exam. The notes cannot contain completed essays or completed portions of any essay. They may contain outlines of essays, abbreviated summaries of arguments, or quotations that you wish to use in your essays.
Essays will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria: clarity and precision of explanations; level of understanding of course material (readings, lecture, and discussion); and strength of supporting arguments. Creativity and imagination are also encouraged, so long as they don't interfere with clear explanation and strong argumentation.
The exam will consist of three essays. I will select from the questions below either 1A or 1B, and either 2A or 2B, and question 3.
Either 1A or 1B will be selected for the final exam. [60 possible points]
The case takes place in the imaginary town of Gilbane. The sludge from the Gilbane sewage plant has been used for many years as a fertilizer and is sold under the name "Gilbane Gold." The revenue from the sale of Gilbane Gold enables the city to supplement its tax revenues, saving the average family of four a significant sum in taxes each year. In order to protect this source of income, the town has placed severe restrictions on the discharge of heavy metals into the sewage, so the sewage would be safe for use by farmers as fertilizer. The restrictions are ten times more stringent than federal regulations.
Before implementing these regulations, Gilbane had aggressively marketed itself as a city with a good business climate, offering tax abatements to industries that chose to move there. After several high-tech firms moved to the area, the more stringent regulations were enacted. Z CORP was one of the companies that moved to Gilbane. Its Gilbane plant manufactures computer components, but the plant's manufacturing process creates substantial quantities of toxic materials, primarily heavy metals. Z CORP monitors its waste discharge monthly.
Two facts about the regulations are pertinent to the case. First, plants in Gilbane are responsible for supplying test data to the city. The data must be signed by an engineer, who attests to its accuracy. The law governing effluents is flawed, however, for it only regulates effluent discharge in terms of the amount of toxic material for a given volume of discharge, not in terms of the total quantity of contaminant. So a plant can always operate within Gilbane standards by simply increasing the volume of discharge.
Second, a newer and more sensitive (but also more expensive) test for heavy metals has been developed since the city enacted its standards. The newer test is not required by the city, and the city of Gilbane does not use it. Z CORP employees have access to the test, and it shows that the plant has apparently been slightly exceeding the allowable emissions on a number of occasions. (Since the newer test has only been used recently, it is not known how long these apparent violations have been going on.) This produces a problem for Z CORP. If it discloses the results of the new test, the city might take legal action against it. If it does not disclose the results, some of its own employees may believe it is exhibiting bad faith with the city. It is not known exactly what the long-term health and environmental effects of such slight violations of the discharge standard would be.
Suppose that you are the plant's junior environmental engineer, a relatively new employee of Z CORP. You have replaced a consultant who was released from his work for Z CORP, apparently (at least, according to the consultant) because of his warnings about the discharge of toxic materials. You are concerned about Z CORP's heavy metals discharge, too, especially when you learn that Z CORP has signed a contract that will result in a five-fold (500%) increase in the discharge of heavy metals. It is part of your job to sign the monthly test reports that go to the city. Should you tell the city that Z CORP seems to be slightly exceeding emissions standards? What are your ethical responsibilities to protect safety and well-being in this case? [Case constructed by the NSPE.]
Use the theory of engineers' safety responsibilities presented in Richard DeGeorge=s article, "Ethical Responsibilities of Engineers in Large Organizations," to answer these questions. Then explain what you see to be the most important strengths and weaknesses of this approach to the case and why.
Same case 1A as above ("Gilbane Gold").
Use Mike Martin and Roland Schinzinger's theory in "Engineering as Social Experimentation" to present answers to these questions. Then explain what you see to be the most important strengths and weaknesses of this approach to the case and why.
Either 2A or 2B will be selected for the final. [60 possible points]
Suppose that you have been asked to write an article for a professional engineering audience in which you present three arguments why industry should use Michael Braungart's and William McDonough's system of environmentally intelligent design (see Gorman, et al., Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering, Chaps. 11-16). What will your three arguments be? Explain.
What will be the two strongest objections that your position will face? Briefly describe these objections and how you would respond to them.
The catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas at Union Carbide India's pesticide manufacturing plant in Bhopal in December 1984 was the worst industrial accident in history (see Gorman, et al., Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering, Chaps. 26-27). Present and explain four lessons that you think this case teaches engineers about how to conceive of their ethical responsibilities to protect public safety in circumstances in which industrial technologies developed in the industrialized "first world" are transferred to operations in poor, "third world" countries. In other words, what can engineers learn about their safety responsibilities based on this infamous disaster?
The following essay will definitely be on the final. [80 possible points]
Later this spring you meet an old high school friend who hears that you have just finished a course at UD in engineering ethics. The friend is skeptical of the value of such a course. She asks, "Didn't you develop your personal moral convictions long ago, through your upbringing, your family, peers, and community? So, what's the point of studying professional ethics at this stage of your life? Moreover," your friend continues, "aren't engineers merely 'hired guns,' paid to serve their clients' and employers' interests, whatever those might be, so long as they are legal? What, then, is the point of studying ethical principles, models, and cases about morally right conduct in engineering, if your clients and employers ultimately will control your work?"
Use relevant material from throughout our course (not merely the final two units) to explain and defend carefully your responses to your friend's questions.
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