Faculty responsibility for student safety, health, and welfare?
Many engineering codes of ethics state that engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. As engineering educators should we extend this responsibility to our students? And if so, how? Each of these three elements are distinct in some ways. Faculty are responsible for student safety in experimental laboratory and hands-on design/build settings, for example. Unique safety concerns may arise during study abroad and community engagement activities. During the COVID pandemic faculty may have experienced dilemmas regarding student health (and the health of the surrounding community) as campus administrators made decisions about in-person versus online instruction. Universities and faculty are also increasingly attending to student mental health. Finally, it is argued that considerations of welfare are the most challenging. Faculty perhaps think of student welfare long-term, as they help students build knowledge and skills that may yield post-graduation benefits in terms of employment. But does this long-term perspective cause us to undervalue in-the-moment student welfare? Our policies and practices may cause stress, and stress has been shown to inhibit learning. But other research and theories of learning indicate a positive role of dissonance and stress to the learning process. Thus, overemphasis on short-term avoidance of discomfort in the pursuit of student welfare may impede learning. Exploring these ideas is congruent with faculty who see their role as teaching people (their students) versus teaching subjects / topics / content. Examining our teaching practices through this lens of our foundational ethical obligation as engineers may cause us to change our approaches.