A moral compass to engineering
Engineers are to uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of their profession. They are expected to serve competently, collaboratively and ethically while enhancing the global quality of life.
All of us have our own individual moral compasses that we may need to fine tune once in a while as we evolve as individuals and engineers. For instance, I was born into an average middle-class family in India that valued education, hard work and ethical behavior in all walks of life. As a result of my background, the most common question I get asked is, “Is ethics different in different regions, cultures and religions?” The simple answer is “no.” Laws may differ, but ethical behavior as human beings does not and should not differ because an act that does not violate any law does not necessarily mean that it is an ethical act.
In today’s environment of globalization, firms and organizations are growing and so have developed individual codes of conduct to guide their respective groups. These codes may all seem to read differently, but at the core, they all subscribe to very similar values.
I received my undergraduate and master’s degrees from one of the oldest engineering institutions in India that began as the country’s survey school. I had the opportunity to briefly work in India before coming to the United States for a doctoral degree. This brief exposure to the industry in India and the knowledge of working conditions in other developing countries in Southeast Asia made me aware of the ethical challenges faced by civil engineers. Therefore, when William Henry, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2005 President, invited me to join him and other industry leaders on the Committee on Ethical Practice (formerly known as the Committee on Global Principles for Professional Conduct), I readily accepted. The group works to raise awareness on corruption, bribery and fraud that threaten those committed to ethical behavior and have become impediments to improving the quality of life in those countries.
The group first worked on changing Canon 6 in the ASCE’s Code of Ethics to include the following: “Engineers shall act with zero-tolerance for bribery, fraud and corruption in all engineering or construction activities in which they are engaged.” We then became involved with developing a training video titled “Ethicana,” which is available on ASCE’s website. Based on my commitment to the subject, I was then asked to chair the ASCE’s Committee on Ethical Practice. As the chair of that committee and through other positions within ASCE, I have been able to develop programs and activities to help students, engineers, academicians and other industry professionals readily identify unethical activities or behaviors. They are also provided with necessary tools to not only avoid, but also bring to light and fight unethical behaviors. It is our responsibility to not only identify unethical behavior, but to bring about change in these behaviors such that the public has the utmost trust in our profession.
Recently, I was elected to the executive board of the National Institute for Engineering Ethics, which encourages engineering ethics and professionalism across various entities, and I was recommended to serve on the Anti-Corruption Committee of the World Federation of Engineering Organization. And I look forward to continuing to advance the adoption of ethical practices throughout my profession.
Dr. K. N. Gunalan (K.N.Gunalan@aecom.com), P.E., vice president, alternative delivery transportation, has presented on various topics at ASCE’s multi-regional leadership conferences and coordinated discussions at multiple ASCE annual conferences. He has been married to his wife Duru for more than 32 years, his son Kabilar is completing his M.D./Ph.D. at Case Western University, and his daughter Pallavi has completed her master’s in biomedical engineering from Carnegie Melon University.
LinkedIn: Guna Gunalan