Technical Education and the Liberal Arts at Princeton
©1996 Michael S. Mahoney
Public lecture delivered on 6 March 1996 as one of a series commemorating Princeton's 250th anniversary; to appear in From College to University: Essays on the History of Princeton University, ed. Anthony T. Grafton and John M. Murrin.
|The fundamental problem underlying Princeton's engineering effort has been the task of building a strong engineering program on a predominantly liberal arts campus.|
The School of Engineering is part of many stories concerning Princeton. It involves the College and the Graduate School, the growth of the campus and its extension across Route 1, the University's relations with government and industry, and the changing professional role of its faculty. I cannot cover them all in a single lecture, though I shall touch on many of them. So I should like to focus on a question that I first stated half in jest but then found restated for me in all seriousness by a former dean of the School. My question was "What's an engineering school doing at a nice liberal arts college like this?" Dean Joseph C. Elgin put it more politically. "The fundamental problem underlying Princeton's engineering effort," he insisted, "has been the task of building a strong engineering program on a predominantly liberal arts campus." I should add at the outset that through an unpublished account of his stewardship Dean Elgin has been an indispensable guide to the history of the School from the mid-50s through the '60s. His account continues the brief history of the School from its origins through the 1940s, written by his predecessor, Kenneth H. Condit, which has also provided valuable direction through the archives. (2) For tonight, at least, I should like to concentrate on the history of which they were a part, both as actors and reporters.
Engineering came to Princeton in 1875 as the last of the series of appointments that constituted the new School of Science made possible by the generosity of John C. Green, a wealthy New York businessman. In that year Charles C. McMillan was named Professor of Civil Engineering and chair of the Department of Civil Engineering. Planning for the new School of Science had begun several years earlier, as James McCosh, not at first enthusiastic about calls from the faculty for such an enterprise, concluded that "We cannot keep our students from reading the works of Herbert Spencer, Darwin, Huxley, and Tyndal, and some have been puzzled for a time, and by unwise treatment might easily be driven into a hostile attitude." (3) Officially, as the Trustees' minutes put it,
The object for which [the School of Science] is established is to give a thorough Scientific education, with high literary culture, to those who may not choose to devote such attention to Classical and Philosophical study as is required in the academic course.
Why the new School of Science included civil engineering is not clear. The first announcement of School in the Catalogue made no mention of the subject until the very end, when it noted that "General Magee has subscribed $5000 towards a Chair of Civil Engineering." In December 1874 McCosh informed the Trustees that "It is the unanimous opinion of the instructors that [the School of Science] is essential to the prosperity of the institution, and in order to retrain the students we now have and to attract others, that in addition to the present professorships we have a chair of Civil Engineering." (4) In the event, it was Green who provided the additional funds, and the new department took shape under the oversight of his son Charles, a trustee of the College, with whom McMillan worked closely.
There are really two questions here, why engineering and why civil engineering? The second is perhaps easier to explain, if we remember that at the time "civil" was an antonym to "military" and thus denoted the full range of engineering as it applied to civilian affairs. Professionally speaking, except for mining, there were no other fields of engineering; the American Society of Civil Engineers had only recently been reestablished as a national organization in 1867, and the mining engineers had gathered in a less formal organization in 1871. A companion society of mechanical engineers was several years in the offing. In 1875 civil engineering covered a broad spectrum, including machines and heat engines, as the course of study announced in that year's catalog makes clear. (5) The third and fourth years included:
TOPOGRAPHICAL DRAWING: Profiles; Pen and Colored Topography; Maps of Trigonometrical, Topographical, and Hydrographical Surveys; Plans and Profiles of Mines; Town Maps; Maps of Landscape Designs and Surveys; Preliminary and Final Drawings of Routes; Property Maps. STEREOTOMY: Cinematics; Machine Drawing; Structure Drawing; Stone Cutting. GEODESY: Trigonometrical, Topographical, and Hydrographical Surveying; Stadia Surveys; Town, Plane Table, and Mine Surveying; Leveling with the Barometer. MECHANICS: Rational Mechanics of Solids and Fluids; Physical Mechanics of Solids and Fluids. APPLIED MECHANICS: Theory of Stresses in Roofs and Bridges; Stability of Walls and Arches; General Theory of Machines; Hydraulic Motors; Theory of the Steam and Air Engine. CONSTRUCTIONS: Materials of Structures; Dressing and Preservation of Materials; Foundations; Details of Roofs and Bridges; Construction of Roads, Railroads, Canals, and Tunnels; Harbor and River Improvements; Water Supply and Drainage; Warming and Ventilation; Designs for and Reviews of Special Structures.
Why engineering at all, however, is another question. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, from which Princeton drew its first professor of engineering and then its first professor of graphics (F.N. Willson), may have formed a model. It too consisted of a School of Science, with a Department of Civil Engineering.
When first proposing the School of Science to the trustees, McCosh did not propose, "at least for the present, to provide professional instruction." Nonetheless, McMillan apparently aimed from the beginning at training meant to produce a practicing engineer. By 1878, the Department had its own rubric under the School of Science and announced that it was "designed to furnish its graduates with complete preparation for entering the profession of Civil Engineering." McMillan also moved to distinguish the Department from the rest of the School, which by the mid-'80s he felt was becoming too lax in its standards and too unfocused in its offerings. His reliance on the general science curriculum made that task difficult and caused friction between him and his colleagues. Students in Civil Engineering took essentially the same program as other students during the first three years, except for courses in geodesy, topographical drawing, and stereotomy, and it was only with the senior program in applied mechanics (including steam and air engines) and "constructions" that it diverged significantly. By replacing some of the School's general experimental courses during the first two years with a heavy dose of field work (surveying) and engineering drawing, McMillan made it difficult for students to transfer into the Department after beginning in the School. (6)
McMillan remained the central figure of Princeton engineering until his retirement in 1914, even after the establishment of the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1889 with Cyrus Fogg Brackett as Chairman. As in McMillan's case, Brackett worked directly with Charles Green in planning the department, which required two new buildings. An iron-free Magnetic Observatory, located away from all magnetic and mechanical disturbance on the corner of McCosh Walk and Washington Road, would draw its steam from the Chapel and its electricity from a Dynamo Building at the School. (7) Electrical engineering was essentially a postgraduate course, which students entered upon completing the three-year program of the School of Science. It was one of the first programs in electrical engineering in the country, and laid claim to being the first. Brackett directed it until 1908, when he was succeeded by Malcolm McLaren.
Almost as important as the Departments themselves in shaping the course of engineering at Princeton was the Princeton Engineering Association, formed in 1912 and open to Princeton alumni, both engineers and non-engineers. The Association was quick to persuade the trustees to include an engineering alumnus among their number and to appoint him to the powerful curriculum committee. The annual reports of the Association from 1914 (when McMillan retired and was replaced by Frank H. Constant) to 1918 reflect a continuing concern with the engineering curriculum and with the character of the training the students were receiving. During 1917-18, the Association's Committee on Education drew up a detailed proposal for expansion and reorganization of the curriculum, which President Hibben then referred to a committee of the Faculty. Plans soon emerged for a School of Engineering, adding to civil and electrical engineering new departments of mechanical, chemical, and mining engineering.
What also emerged were the specifications of a new product: the humanistically trained engineer prepared by study of the liberal arts to meet the both technical and the non-technical challenges of corporate management. The Association's Report for 1915-16 published a portion of a letter from Vice-President Gabriel S. Brown setting out the concerns in the professional community to which the new program was a response:
I have had considerable experience with young engineering graduates from various technical institutions of learning in the Eastern part of the United States and the great defect that I find with all these young men is their lack of appreciation of the human element in construction work or in the operating details of a manufacturing establishment. I believe that it is highly desirable for technical schools to enlarge their curricula so as to include such theoretical instruction as can be secured along lines which will make the students realize the importance of the economic factor in preparing engineering designs of any character, and also the great weight that must be given to the human element in carrying out whatever projects may be suggested. (8)
What the alumni were seeking dovetailed with what Princeton could best offer. In putting the case for the endowment on which the plans depended, Constant met the central question head-on:
That engineering, if it is to be continued in Princeton at all, should be put upon a strong and efficient basis worthy of the University, no one will question. But is this type of education in harmony with the liberal traditions of the University? Does Princeton want to develop professional, or vocational, education? (9)
The answer to the last question was no, but that was not the kind of education the new School planned to offer. It rested on too narrow a concept of engineering. "Engineering," Constant urged,
in fact, is not a restricted, or even a definite calling, but rather it is a background for a wide range of activities, sometimes closely technical and scientific, more often also economic and vitally in touch with the great industrial problems of the time.
The engineer, he continued, required a broad education that provided not only an understanding of science but also well developed powers of analytical thinking, a keen sense of values, and a liberal spirit. And "these are the elements which Princeton is preeminently qualified to contribute." In that sense engineering formed an "integral part of the educational system of the University." It was no more vocational than any other area of the curriculum that students might put to practical use after graduation. It did not produce engineers but people qualified to enter engineering as one of a range of possible careers. For that same reason, there could be no thought of a graduate school in engineering. Questions of endowment aside, "the type of engineering education that we are discussing is essentially undergraduate in character." What Princeton would offer, in President John Grier Hibben's phrase, was "engineering plus."
Approved in 1918 on condition that nothing could proceed until the entire $3 million needed to pay for it had been raised or at least identified, the School was postponed for the duration of the war and became a reality only three years later. It was inaugurated in 1921, and for leadership Princeton again turned to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, recruiting Arthur M. Greene, Professor of Mechanical Engineering there and former junior dean of engineering at the University of Missouri. (10) Greene remained Dean of Engineering until his retirement in 1940.
While Princeton could build on its current curriculum in expanding its program in engineering, the formation of the School put a heavy burden on the facilities of the School of Science, even with the added space for electrical engineering in Palmer Hall, and plans were soon underway for a separate facility. In 1928 the School moved across Washington Road to a new building, now Green Hall, and to the renamed Engineering Annex, the present Burr Hall, which Chemistry was leaving for its new home in Frick. Several laboratories remained in the School of Science, including the Dynamo House. The move came none too soon, as the original School went up in flames shortly thereafter.
In explaining the meaning of President Hibben's phrase, "Engineering plus," a 1926 brochure from the campaign to raise funds for the new building offers a revealing statement of the thinking behind the new School. (11) "The Princeton School of Engineering," it began, "does more for its students than to prepare them technically in the several fields of the profession. Its purpose from the very beginning has been to offer young men an engineering education in the cultural environment of a liberal arts college."
In authorizing the expansion, the Trustees of the University were guided by a large conception of engineering education. They realized that, while the demand for men of engineering training is constantly increasing, the profession itself feels the need of a broader education to produce not only better engineers, but men conversant with the humanities. The Trustees restricted the technical work in the four year courses to the fundamental subjects which form the basis of all engineering and directed that the remaining time be devoted to a thorough preparation in mathematics, the natural sciences, economics and English, supplemented with electives in subjects from the other departments.
This training --in fundamental engineering subjects correlated with others dealing with human relations-- has been termed by President Hibben "Engineering plus," an expression which indicates the aim of the Princeton School.
Behind the phrase lay a new conception of engineering as a professional career. The brochure portrayed it as a natural evolution. Toward the turn of the century, the engineers who had designed America's factories proved to know best how to run them. "Thus," continued the brochure, "engineers entered the field of production, their training enabling them to apply cause and effect to the many problems of shop management and human relations which are a vital part of all manufacturing undertakings." The increasing sophistication of machinery meant that engineers had to move beyond design and production to assist customers in its installation, operation, and maintenance. "[T]hus the field of engineering activities came to include salesmanship, promotion and financial management. These new activities demanded men trained to consider other things than stresses, efficiencies and purely scientific problems. Princeton anticipated this development."
The modern engineer had to be trained not only in the basic science that underlay the new technologies, but also in industrial management and in economics. "The conservation of our raw materials, now threatened with exhaustion, demands the services of men trained not only in the fundamental sciences, but also in their wider application to industry and national life."
While, therefore, the study of the laws of nature and of the structures which have been erected in accordance with these laws has remained the essential part of the Princeton engineer's training, it is felt that no engineer can be adequately equipped to meet the new and enlarged situation without knowledge of the laws of economics, psychology, history and its philosophy, literature and similar subjects. Princeton has always believed that such preparation is essential to men who would pass beyond the routine stage of design or operation to the inauguration of projects of far-reaching consequences. Such men are peculiarly fitted by their broad training to direct the work of others, and to be leaders in their field.
The School of Engineering, no less than the College, aimed at providing the nation's leaders. It was as much a moral as an intellectual mission. As Dean Greene insisted when laying the cornerstone of the new building,
In this preparation of men to harness the force of nature, the preparation of men who can harness themselves has not been forgotten. We allow our students chances to elect subjects from the Princeton cultural courses, which will open to them the treasures of the present and the past for future enjoyment in the distant construction camp or at night after a strenuous day in the factory.
Engineering as we conceive it cannot be divorced from man or men, and he can serve best who is trained to handle himself and think of others in relation to the physical structure on which he is engaged. (12)
Hence, the building to arise around that cornerstone "will not suggest the factory or the practical structure with which engineers are interested, rather this form will suggest the higher human element which we are endeavoring to stress in our Princeton engineering course."
As Edwin T. Layton, Jr., has shown in his now classic study, The Revolt of the Engineers, that view reflected a growing self-consciousness among engineers that they were the effective power behind the nation's industrial and corporate growth and that responsibility for its efficient operation ultimately lay with them. (13) It was a view suited to a nation that in 1928 enthusiastically elected "The Great Engineer" as its President and, despite the debacle of Technocracy, it survived the Depression, as the engineering themes of the World's Fair of 1939 attest. As in H.G. Well's Things to Come, a popular film of the time, the future lay in the hands of the engineer.
Designed with the continuing advice of engineers and managers in industry, Princeton's approach to engineering education presupposed the cooperation, indeed the collaboration of industry. Apparently, industry had to be reminded of its obligation. In an address at the dedication of the James Ward Packard Laboratory of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering at Lehigh University in October 1930, Dean Greene set forth "What the Technical Schools Expect of Industry." (14) It came down to four points. Industry had to understand that in the time available, the schools could teach only the fundamentals, leaving it to industry to train the people in special details. Schools not only did not have time for courses in special subjects, but they could not do as good a job as industry. It was up to industry to provide those courses, rather than turning, as some were doing, to foreign graduates trained along more specialist lines. It was in industry's interest to have broadly trained people equipped to learn whatever they needed.
It was also in industry's interest to provide schools with the equipment they could so ill afford.
All of you who have been trained in one of our American technical schools can well recall the names of the makers of the machines on which you performed experiments and of the makers of the instruments you used. Moreover, you know whether you were not influenced in your later purchases by these same names. (15)
Shared equipment meant more than a long-term investment. Over the short range it offered the possibility of closer collaboration to mutual benefit.
At some of our technical schools co-operative research problems are being worked out by industry and the schools, and at some schools engineering experiment stations are aiding industry at the expense of the state. (16) The technical schools have the personnel, the equipment, and the space by which many problems of industry could be solved for those without research facilities and for even those with great facilities these institutions are the natural places to turn for independent, original or confirmatory, work. The schools expect that industry will seriously consider this subject. Each one of us, like this institution at Bethlehem, is surrounded by many who could benefit by our facilities. We, too, would gain from this by the greater use of our personnel in creative work for a definite end and in the inspiration which would come to the student body from the presence of this work on which faculty and probably some students would be engaged.
As part of that collaboration, industry could go farther in sponsoring summer conferences and summer employment for faculty. Faculty could bring theoretical insights, industry could offer better sense of current practice. Summer employment of students would also be a benefit.
Greene's words make clear that he was describing what could be, not what was, and his admonition to industry could hardly have come at a less propitious time.During the '30s, thinking both within the School and among its external advisors, PEA and the newly formed departmental advisory councils, directed the curriculum increasingly toward fundamental science and toward the liberal arts. Perhaps because of the shortage of engineering jobs in the Depression, the School was encouraged by its advisers to postpone technical courses until post-graduate study and to keep the first years of undergraduate study as general as possible. In 1938, the School introduced its Basic Engineering course, which came closest to realizing such a program. It was planned for those "who wish to combine with fundamental courses in engineering a greater number of electives from the social sciences and humanities than is possible in the other engineering curricula. It may also be used by those who wish to have a broader training for two years of graduate work for the technical degrees." The program emphasized breadth rather than depth as students received an introduction to the principles of the various branches of engineering.
"Engineering plus" remained the hallmark of the School until World War II, when the experience of research related to the war effort and of providing advanced training for large numbers of military personnel suggested a new model both for engineering education and for a research career in engineering. Since the new directions were commonly portrayed in retrospect as another stage in the natural growth of engineering, it is worth considering the agenda for the School laid out by Kenneth H. Condit in anticipation of his appointment as Arthur Greene's successor in 1940. Condit came from the professional community. Graduated in 1908 as a mechanical engineer from Stevens, he practiced for three years in industry before taking a second degree in civil engineering at Princeton in 1913, where he remained as instructor for another four years. Following service as engine instructor in the Signal Corps's Aviation Section, Condit joined the editorial staff of American Machinist and within two years became its editor, a position he held for seventeen years. During this time he was active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, eventually serving as Vice-President, in the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, and in PEA, over which he presided in 1925.
Condit's agenda, drawn up for President Harold W. Dodds over the summer of '39, reflects that background and also shows how unexpected were the changes wrought by the war. (17) Following up on suggestions made by the Advisory Councils and the Education Committee of the PEA, Condit proposed to make the undergraduate curriculum even more general in content and coverage, while considering the nature and length of postgraduate training leading to a professional degree. Indeed, he proposed that a suitably revised Basic Engineering program might become the curriculum for all undergraduate engineers. Behind this lay the notion that Princeton should be training undergraduates in general principles, leaving it to industry and postgraduate study to provide training in engineering practice.
In 1939 Condit was concerned about faculty who were not able to find work as professional consultants to industry and made it part of his agenda to act as a broker in that regard. More generally, he meant to seek industrial support for professorships, research, and fellowships. Though he spoke, as had Greene a decade earlier, about such support as being in industry's own best interest, that idea seems to have been wishful thinking, since industry had not been knocking at the door seeking enlightenment. So Condit also spoke of industry's obligation to society, though in a tone no less wishful.
World War II changed the School of Engineering. It entered the war teaching. It came out of the war engaged in sponsored research, much of it located at first in the School's newest department, Aeronautical Engineering, established in 1942, initially with the hope that Princeton's location at the center of the aircraft industry in the east would draw industry support. (18) Dean Condit spoke as if the research were a stopgap, conveniently filling the time of the faculty left underemployed by the decline in regular student enrollments. But when the war ended and students began returning in ever-increasing numbers, the School also strove to extend the research projects and to acquire new ones. With the research came a new body of students, namely graduate students working not for a fifth-year professional degree aimed at engineering practice but for a Ph.D. aimed at engineering research and in many cases an academic career.
In 1940 war in Europe and the growing likelihood that the United States would become involved in it at first raised the demand for engineers. Princeton instituted a three-year plan enabling the Classes of '43 and '44 to graduate early by attending summer sessions. In 1942 enrollments in the School soared to 600, to which were added participants in a variety of special courses offered as part of the Engineering Defense Training Program and then, with our entry into the war, the Engineering, Science, Management and War Training Program. Through the latter, directed by Graphics Professor Frank Heacock, Princeton offered 88 courses enrolling 3619 students, 428 of them women, the first to enter the University's classrooms. (19)
By the summer of 1944, however, the School had shrunk to 97 students and then fell to 62 the following spring. While new special courses for the Army and Navy took up some of the slack, the faculty was underemployed in the classroom. Some, like Joseph Elgin, then Chair of Chemical Engineering, took leave of absence to engage full time in war work, in his case as Chief of Technological Development for the U.S. Rubber Administration. Others remained at Princeton and found the work coming to them. By 1942, Daniel Sayre, who had begun the war overseeing the Civil Pilot Training Program, was soon doing research for the Army Air Corps on the deicing of rotor blades, while his colleague, Alexander Nikolsky, brought in from Sikorsky Aircraft, worked on elements of helicopter design. Under Palmer Stadium, Gregory Tschebotarioff of Civil Engineering built a reinforced concrete tank with a sliding bulkhead for full-scale tests of the pressures exerted by various kinds of backfill. Chemical Engineering undertook several projects for the National Defense Research Council. Toward the end of the war, that work was supplanted by research on synthetic fibers for the Textile Research Institute, then housed in the Engineering School (and now located on a former estate at the foot of Prospect Avenue). Electrical Engineering did work for the Navy's Pre-Radar Program and then for a Naval Ordnance Project. In Mechanical Engineering, Louis Rahm organized a new Plastics Program, which attracted funding from the Army's Signal Corps.
In his report to the President for the year 1944-1945, as well as in a special five-year review, Dean Condit looked toward an agenda quite different from what he had in mind in 1939. In 1940 Dean Greene had passed on to him a thriving undergraduate school.
The two opportunities for development that existed when I took over were in the fields of engineering research and of graduate training. Neither had been given much consideration, probably because of lack of facilities, faculty and financing. The war has enabled us to move rapidly into research work but it has operated to reduce our faculty, although not to the extent evident in schools which failed to adopt the policy of shifting faculty time to research as the teaching load fell off. We have followed this policy aggressively with the result that most of the staff is still in Princeton but is being paid largely from government or private research funds.
Essentially, the war reduced the heavy teaching load that up to then had blocked the research and consulting "which is so important to the increase in stature of an engineering teacher." The promise of continued funding after the war now presented an opportunity to reshape the School in fundamental ways:
It is safe to say, however, that a start has been made in engineering research that puts us solidly in the field. The decision to adopt a modification of the Columbia University patent policy will make it possible to accept much more industrial research than would otherwise be the case. The more such work we can accommodate the more faculty time we can assign to it and the larger and stronger our faculty can be. Furthermore, the presence of research projects makes it possible to provide interesting and instructive work for graduate students.
Those graduate students were themselves a product of the war, as young engineers trained for the emergency now looked to additional study at government expense to make the transition from the military to the industrial sector. Foreign students were likewise seeking graduate training as the basis for building engineering schools at home. (20)
At the same time there are greatly increased opportunities in industry for men with the doctor's degree in engineering. The achievements of scientists and engineers in cooperative war research have aroused industrial leaders to a new understanding of the potential contribution of such men. Never slow to act they have put it up to the universities to supply advanced engineering education.
Beginning in 1945, Princeton responded to the challenge by designing doctoral programs in chemical and electrical engineering. Chemical Engineering faced a particularly heavy demand for graduate work in the new areas of high polymers and chemical engineering kinetics, and industry in turn did recognize the importance of that training. A host of companies, including Celanese, Standard Oil of Indiana, DuPont, Monsanto, Calco, and Quaker Oats, provided fellowships, while Shell Oil and Phillips Petroleum supplied research funding.
But it was the U.S. government, rather than industry, that provided the bulk of the funding that increasingly characterized a new way of life for the School of Engineering. The Signal Corps underwrote the new Plastics Program with an initial grant of $100,000 and an extension of $300,000. Three of the five research contracts in Electrical Engineering came from the Navy. With rapidly growing support from the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, Aeronautical Engineering moved into the areas of transonic aerodynamics and jet propulsion, quickly building a reputation that in 1948 brought it one of the two Jet Propulsion Centers established by the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation. A doctoral program soon followed in 1949.
Almost from the start, the turn to research burst the space available in the Engineering School. Aeronautical Engineering moved into a set of buildings near Lake Carnegie, but as its focus turned from icing and helicopter design to supersonic wind tunnels and jet propulsion, it had to put some distance between itself and the rest of the campus. Early in 1951, on Sayre's urging, the University acquired the Rockefeller Institutes for Medical Research three miles away on the other side of Route 1 and renamed it the Forrestal Center in honor of James V. Forrestal '15, Secretary of the Navy and the first Secretary of Defense. (21)
In describing the changes wrought on the Engineering School in the decade 1954-64, Elgin spoke of the shift from "art" (by which he meant craft practice) to "engineering science" in the curriculum and from practice to research at the graduate and faculty levels. The two were related. The emphasis on research went hand in hand with engineering as a science, and the linked developments were reflected in new measures of the faculty's professional activities. In the Annual Reports of the 1940s, professional activities consisted almost entirely of offices in professional societies and in consultancies with engineering or industrial firms. There were very few publications and a few more lectures and papers at professional meetings. That began to change in the early '50s, as publication in refereed journals began to figure more prominently. By 1967, the research budget reached $3.5 million, $3.1 million of it from outside sponsors. The Dean estimated that "more than three-quarters of the Engineering Faculty are actively engaged in research and that the programs of at least half the faculty, and more than half of the Engineering graduate students are supported by sponsored research contracts and grants." He measured the year's productivity by 107 articles, 31 technical reports, and 72 seminars and talks. Elgin spoke of a change in attitude among the faculty, but it might be characterized more accurately as a fundamental transformation of the concept of a professional academic career in engineering. Engineers were behaving like scientists.
World War II restructured the relation between science and engineering. Rightly or wrongly, through such feats as the atomic bomb, radar and the computer, it came to be referred to as "The Scientists' War," and scientists emerged with new-found respect for their ability not only to create theory but to translate that theory into practice. Even an engineer like Vannevar Bush was ready to cede to scientists the role of progenitor of technological progress, arguing in Science, the Endless Frontier that the technological future of America depended on maintaining and fostering a base of pure science.
That science had planted the seeds of new technologies was not a new idea. At the dedication of the new Engineering Building in 1928, Dean Greene had expressed much the same thesis:
The great emphasis placed on research in this celebration finds a hearty approval and support from us who are particularly interested in application of science. We who are building generating stations or sewing machines, watches, or Delaware River Bridges, radio apparatus or searchlights, cannot but remember the works of Newton, Faraday, Franklin, Henry, Rankine, Bessimer [sic], Edison and a host of others who have ascertained those basic laws of matter, laws of the universe, which we have used in our processes or our structures. Much of our present day development in central station efficiency has been suggested by that obscure quantity of Clausius and Gibbs, Entropy. We wish to further the cause of pure research into the fundamental sciences because we know that the mathematical abstractions of today will become our tools of tomorrow, that the physical discovery of today may be applied in our future structures, or that some new chemical discovery may release new sources of energy for the use of the engineer.
But Greene's emphasis on "pure research" and "abstractions" left the task of application squarely to the engineer. If only because of the context within which Bush was writing, namely the success of the Office of Scientific Research and Development under his direction during the war, his version narrowed the gap between pure and applied or at least made the distinction hazy. (22)
Bush's view, which later extended in the popular mind to the space program and the notion of the "rocket scientist," proved on empirical examination to be inaccurate. Studies such as Project Hindsight showed that by the late '60s most of the technologies of importance to the economy had emerged from technical practice, not from scientific research. Nonetheless, one did not have to agree with the notion of science-driven technology to recognize that many fields of engineering had come to rest on extensive mathematical and scientific foundations, especially in such areas as nuclear power, jet propulsion, supersonic flight, computing, solid-state electronics, and synthetic materials. Science might not have created these fields, but it was indispensable to their further development.
The war thus posed a twofold challenge to engineers, especially academic engineers: first, to (re)define their place on the spectrum linking scientific theory and technical practice and, second, to adapt engineering education to the demands of science-based technology. The response took the form of a new concept of engineering research and of its place in the professional career of engineering faculty. Engineering research began to look more like scientific research, as engineers focused on the theoretical foundations of their disciplines and measured their output and professional standing in terms of published articles. Their research became a major focus of their efforts, as did the training of graduate students to do the same thing.
That change of attitude, as Elgin referred to the phenomenon, had its impact on undergraduate engineering education. Thinking back on his early days as Dean, Elgin recalled that he and Sayre, whom he had immediately appointed his Associate Dean,
... were both convinced that engineering on a liberal arts campus and the concepts on which the Princeton Engineering School was founded, together with the University's resources and strengths in mathematics, science, and the other disciplines, provided an unusually strong foundation on which to build a first rank engineering curriculum and engineering research programs. They were also certain that, if future engineers were to cope with the discoveries and advances of science for practical applications, the future practice of professional engineering would demand a depth of scientific knowledge and a level of intellectual achievement not previously attained in an engineering education.
Engineering education at Princeton must compare in level of intellectual sophistication to that normally attained in an education for pure science and, at the same time, it must steadfastly maintain and further strengthen its existing plan and methods for the blending of the social sciences and the humanities into a liberal engineering education. It seemed clear that answers to such questions and problems should be sought in two ways. First, undergraduate education must be refocused toward increased generalization, rather toward increased specialization and narrow curriculum based on more highly specialized technologies (a path then being advocated by many engineers). This could be done by emphasizing the then emerging science of engineering in contrast to training in specific technologies while, at the same time, increasing the flexibility of the engineering curriculum and maintaining its liberal arts content. (23)
Again, the idea that one best prepared undergraduates for a range of careers in engineering and management by providing them with a solid grounding in mathematics and the sciences, followed by an introduction to the basic principles of the engineering disciplines was not new. What Elgin added to it was his insistence on engineering as a scientific discipline in its own right.
Elgin spoke of "engineering science" on many occasions, but perhaps never so directly (at least in public) as on the occasion of the dedication of the Engineering Quadrangle, for what was moving into it was the newly renamed the School of Engineering and Applied Science. (24) In introducing the new $8 million facility to the alumni in the PAW for 12 October 1962, Elgin and John C. Whitwell, who had headed the faculty committee following Sayre's death in 1958, depicted it as a symbol of engineering's evolution "from a past rooted in the art of technology to its future based upon the science of engineering systems." That evolution did not simply make engineering one of the sciences. On the contrary, Elgin and Whitwell emphasized through italics, "the important thing to do is to assign identities to engineering and to science as distinctive disciplines. For engineering is not only a technical art; it is also a scientific discipline in its own right."
Engineering science accepts as a basic principle the existence of a fundamental body of knowledge unique to engineering. This science deals with the complex multivariable system and its design, and with the machine of any description, in contrast to the component parts individually, which is the focus of pure science. ... It is concerned with the principles and mechanisms by which machines and processes operate; and with those for designing chemical processes and products of any physical variety. It might be called the science of application; or the science of translating scientific and social knowledge into the beneficial use of man.
By way of examples, Elgin and Whitwell contrasted the design of a steam engine and the principles of heat transfer and fluid mechanics, or the design of a sulfuric acid reactor and the principles of chemical reaction kinetics. Engineering science concerned the principles behind engineering design.
Nonetheless, design remained the ultimate goal, and the evolution of engineering science was not headed toward the merging of engineering with science or the recasting of the engineer as a scientist. As Elgin had insisted in "A Philosophy of Engineering Education," which prefaced the announcement in 1959 of the School's revised undergraduate program,
An engineering problem can rarely be solved by the sequential application of isolated scientific principles which have been developed by pure science to explain or predict the behavior of a few variables under idealized conditions. Engineering science is, therefore, something more than applied science in the usual sense. An engineering problem is usually so complex that an exact and rigorous mathematical statement is rarely possible. In recognition of this, engineering science seeks to formulate valid, if less rigorous, generalizations which approximate the real situation. In contrast to pure science, engineering science, the science of the system, accepts the complete system as it actually exists and attempts to provide a technically correct answer, translatable into some form of action.
Between the technically correct answer and the working system lay the art of engineering, which universities, or at least Princeton University, could not properly teach.
However, the variables in most engineering problems are so numerous and complex that the application of engineering science alone is often insufficient to provide an acceptable answer; the art of engineering must be added to the science. The continual widening of engineering horizons makes it unlikely that all engineering art will be reduced to an engineering science in the foreseeable future. Princeton believes that the art of engineering can be acquired only by education on the job, and by experience and practice; it believes that the art can be neither effectively nor satisfactorily taught in the university.
Industry, the statement continued, echoing Dean Greene, supports that view in asking that young engineers be taught the fundamentals; the details they can learn on the job. Industry must be willing to take on task of training engineers in "the immediately useful art and skill, and in specialized technologies." That leaves universities free to do what they alone can do: teach the fundamentals.
To some degree, the emergence of engineering science was, as Francis Bacon had said of the new science of his day, "a birth of time." Before the war, training in the art of technology sufficed, Elgin and Whitwell continued:
Such subjects and interdisciplinary and interdepartmental programs as the engineering of plastics, nuclear energy, plasma physics, computer sciences and the science of the solid state and materials simply did not exist as objects of study for engineering and applied science. Digital systems and devices, feedback control systems, communication systems, electronics, modern fluid mechanics, applied elasticity, hydrology, or soil science were still unknown as important parts of the knowledge and equipment of engineers.
More importantly, the various branches of engineering had operated more or less independently of one another. "Numerous concepts and principles, now applied across many engineering fields, were not known then to be common to much of the engineering art and applicable to the practice of more than one of the branches of engineering, as today we know they can be."At some point, should point out that School faculty discussed various new schemes for redrawing departmental lines but ultimately decided that none was significantly better than the traditional.
Work across the traditional departmental boundaries was perhaps the most striking aspect of the new programs that developed after the war, starting with the Plastics Program, which drew on the combined efforts of mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering in collaboration with chemistry and physics. Solid state and materials sciences joined the work of mechanical and electrical engineering and physics. Though housed in Chemical Engineering, the Nuclear Engineering Program crossed over into several departments. The Water Resources Program operated on the interface of Civil Engineering, Geological Engineering, and Geology. The Plasma Physics Laboratory linked Astronomy and Physics with Aeronautical, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering. Graduate education had to take account of these interactions, and the undergraduate curriculum could lag far behind.
The design of the Engineering Quadrangle aimed at embodying the commonalities. The basic concept had stemmed from Sayre.
It was agreed that everything then visible, which might contribute to the narrowing or diminishing of the boundaries between engineering departmental areas, should be done and that the design of the facility must accommodate not only growing subject areas, but also the development of new subjects and important interdisciplinary areas of applied science and engineering.
The grouping of the buildings around a courtyard, linked to one another by transitional areas, aimed at facilitating free flow and interaction among the departments, while the modular construction reflected what the School was attempting to achieve in the curriculum, namely the introduction of new fields of study by addition and local rearrangement, rather than by large-scale restructuring.
Not all departments shared Dean Elgin's view of engineering science, either in terms of the scientific foundations of engineering or in terms of engineering as an overarching science in itself. Faculty in Civil Engineering in particular were skeptical of the virtues of mathematical analysis and physical theory in understanding what they knew empirically about the behavior of structures and soils, problems they had been investigating through full-scale modeling and by study of existing structures. Retaining a focus on design and on engineering practice, the Department expressed its concern over the direction of the School and placed itself on another spectrum altogether:
Engineering knowledge represents a portion of knowledge which can be considered as occupying the area between the pure sciences and the social sciences, and it is the responsibility of engineering educators to provide educational programs which develop young men in all facets of this area. It is proper for the more specialized branches of engineering to work closely with the pure sciences and for similar reasons it is proper for the broader based branches, such as civil engineering, to work closely with the social sciences. The faculty of this department feels an obligation to the engineering profession to narrow the gap between engineering and the social sciences just as some departments have closed it between engineering and the pure sciences. When cooperating with and working in the social sciences the faculty of this department has no intention of diluting or abandoning the engineering-science approach. It is the fusion of the engineering-science approach with that of the social sciences which will be most useful to society. In many areas civil engineering will continue to work on the fringes with the pure sciences; cooperation with the social sciences will be an important effort that will not supplant the basic interests of the faculty. (25)
There were other commonalities to be fostered, and these crossed Olden Street and even Washington Road. The joint Program in Engineering and Public Affairs, instituted with the Woodrow Wilson School in 1962, was an early example.
Within a decade, all of the departments began to feel an obligation to narrow the gap between engineering and society, if not the social sciences. In retrospect, the dedication of the Engineering Quadrangle may have marked the peak of what Dean Robert G. Jahn later referred to as the "Classical Era of Engineering Education," the era of "'high technology' -- a dedication to precision, efficiency, speed, elegance and sophistication in the solution of technical problems." (26) Quite apart from disagreements among engineers themselves, these virtues of engineering science came under strain during the 1960s as social upheaval, opposition to the military and to research sponsored by the military, and growing concern about pollution and the environment threatened to recast the engineer from hero to villain. Enrollments as a whole fell off, and the students who remained shifted their attention to those areas of engineering that seemed to address issues of more immediate social concern. Noting that "public support of high technology has withered and the appeal of an engineering career vanished for many individuals," the annual report for 1971/72 continued,
The situation is clearly not one that can be altered by reasoned debate. The public view of engineering can be changed only by visible evidence that it is working hard for the well-being of mankind.
Just as these trends are apparent on a national scale they are clearly evident on the Princeton campus. The Engineering School at Princeton has always had a radically different nature from most engineering colleges by virtue of being a relatively small segment of a liberal arts university. The strength of such a position is that it can not help but broaden the outlook of both the student body and faculty. The weakness at present is that it constantly confronts the students with the concerns of the non-technical elements of society in a concentrated form. There is little question but that the School would lose a fair percentage of its undergraduate body if it did [not?] meet the challenge by direct demonstration of the benefits of technology to society. [emphasis added]
The School responded, among other ways, by encouraging students to use their electives to construct a secondary concentration in social and political systems, ecological systems and environmental studies, economics, foreign area studies, pollution control, architecture, urban systems, transportation, public affairs, etc. Formalized in 1971-72 as Topical Programs in Engineering, this measure did much to reduce attrition, attract new students, and tie the School more closely to the rest of the University. Even "high technology" was affected, as Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences reoriented its attention from space to the terrestrial environment, from aircraft to ground transportation, and from jet propulsion to clean fuels. Symbolically, that shift of research attention was accompanied by a move back to the Engineering Quadrangle from Forrestal.
Dean Elgin's retirement in 1971 marked the end of an era, just as had the retirements of his predecessors in 1940 and 1954. (27) When he succeeded Condit, the School's new Ph.D. programs were just getting underway and the faculty and administration were still feeling their way into the business of sponsored research and the new patterns of professional life it entailed. By 1971, the School had reached a new steady state as a nationally recognized research and graduate training institution, with the resources, facilities and administrative structures necessary to maintain itself and even to adjust to shifts of interest and support. Yet, in reviewing the achievements of his tenure, Elgin gave pride of place to the undergraduate program. (28) Through a "completely revised, modern and flexible curriculum with emphasis on teaching fundamentals of engineering and applied science in contrast to art and specialized technology," the School now offered Princeton students
A broad, liberal, and fundamental undergraduate B.S.E. education for engineering and developing a high level of intellectual achievement as preparation for entering immediately upon graduation into engineering work, for entering one of the many fields of modern industry, for advanced study in a particular field of engineering or science, or for those who intend to continue graduate study in other professional fields, such as law or medicine, or business administration.
In the face of a radical restructuring of the engineering profession, the School had retained the broad liberal preparation that had always been a hallmark of engineering education at Princeton.
As Elgin looked ahead he foresaw considerable continuity in the School's objectives. Its focus on research and graduate training meant that it would always be on the lookout for new resources and sources of support. In that regard, Princeton needed to pay "more attention to increasing relationships with industry and engineering practice and expanding financial support from industry."Interestingly, nowhere in his account does Elgin even mention the unsuccessful attempt to establish a collaborative graduate program with other New Jersey colleges and industrial concerns. Recent political and social upheavals had raised pressing questions concerning the environment and the quality of life, and the School was going to have to work at both the undergraduate and graduate level to bring engineering to bear on those issues. Women had reappeared in Princeton's classrooms, brought not by wartime emergency but by a new appreciation of their value to the intellectual and social life of the University, and the School faced the question of how to attract their talent and energy to engineering. More had to be done to attract A.B. students to engineering courses and perhaps even an A.B. concentration in engineering.
Some of those goals have been realized over the past twenty five years; others remain on the School's agenda, others have emerged in the meantime. But in reaching 1971 I also reach the still active careers of many in this audience, whose memories and experience I have not yet had the opportunity to tap. And so I shall leave the story there, as it were, for the present.