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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NC Board of Engineers: buzz off!

The Raleigh News & Observer published a letter to the editor from me today. Let me give you the background.

A road is being widened on the edge of the city limits. There has been controversy about it from the outset. The most recent controversy is the design of an intersection. Residents of the affected neighborhood don’t like the design. Several members of their homeowners’ group wrote a highly technical analysis criticizing the design.

The licensed engineer at NCDOT who did the design then filed a complaint with the NC Board of Engineers asking whether the homeowners had practiced engineering with a license. The Secretary of NCDOT endorsed his employee’s action. Furor has ensued.

It’s not an academic question. The Board of Engineers in North Carolina is the counterpart to the State Bar or the Medical Board. In North Carolina, practicing engineering without a license – unless one qualifies under a number of exceptions, as I currently do -- is a crime.

Read my letter, which argues that the First Amendment trumps North Carolina law in this instance. The irony is that under NCDOT’s logic, merely by writing the letter and submitting it for publication, I unlawfully practiced law.

When the term “software engineer” first entered use, some overly zealous state boards of engineering reacted adversely and sought prosecution. They were widely ridiculed, with justification.

Very few electrical engineers pursue licensure. Georgia Tech required that I take the first step towards licensure – passing what used to be called the Engineer-in-Training exam – before I could receive my undergraduate degree. Many if not most civil engineers and mechanical engineers are licensed. The licensure process is biased towards them, in the views of electrical engineers. This is one of several interesting ways in which the various disciplines of engineering often snipe at each other. Besides, an unbelievably high percentage of electrical engineers are deeply Libertarian in their outlook. I don't know why, but it's true.