The Vehicle Research Institute lab houses past student-built vehicles. // Photo by Cody Clark
During an engineering and design department meeting on Nov. 14, 2018 faculty voted once again to put the industrial technology vehicle design program in moratorium, which will take effect at the end of the catalog year.
Putting the program into moratorium means they will not enroll any new students in the major after the moratorium is put into effect at the end of the spring quarter, according to the vehicle design program’s website. This allows for the department to work on changes to the curriculum without affecting current students.
On Dec. 4, 2018 the request for a moratorium was approved by the Academic Coordinating Commission.
The vote comes after months of uncertainty for both faculty and students, with the original moratorium proposal going back to May 2018. According to previous coverage by The Western Front, when the moratorium was first proposed, many students felt their opinions were not being considered.
Mitch Hooper, a fourth-year in the vehicle design program, said when the word spread about the proposed moratorium, he was concerned about not being able to finish his degree.
“There were a lot of unanswered questions,” Hooper said. “[We were] wondering what it meant for our future.”
Originally from California, Hooper said he came to Western specifically to participate in the vehicle design program.
“I was drawn to the vehicle program because it was very hands-on,” Hooper said. “It’s a unique program and it’s small, so there’s a lot of professor-student time.”
Engineering and Design Department Chair Jeff Newcomer said the main reason the moratorium was considered, and later passed, was the lack of funding available to hire program faculty and add enough courses to get it accredited, a certification which is highly valued in the industry.
According to Newcomer, the vehicle design program is currently the only program in the engineering department that is not accredited.
Since 2013, the college of science and engineering has submitted four budget proposals as part of the state operating budget request asking for funding to get the program accredited, but each one has failed, according to the department’s website.
“There’s a belief that it is inappropriate to be offering one unaccredited degree when all of our other degrees are accredited,” Newcomer said. “[Unaccredited degrees] have had implications for the graduates, sometimes in an immediate sense, sometimes in the long term.”
According to previous coverage by The Western Front, in recent years, graduates of the vehicle design program have had a difficult time staying competitive in the job market without an accredited degree.
Edward West, a former vehicle design post-baccalaureate student and researcher said he agrees accreditation is valuable in the engineering industry, and believes the program should strive to become accredited. He said he also thinks more focus should be put toward helping students thrive within the existing program.
West said the program offers many students opportunities that go beyond an accredited degree.
“There are a lot of people that like vehicles, automobiles, transportation and the sense of freedom they bring to our society,” West said. “So there's a certain amount of real connection that students have to the program and the subject matter that is often lost in traditional engineering programs.”
Newcomer said because the moratorium will not go into effect until the end of the catalog year, the program will still be accepting new majors during winter quarter. He said current students and students who are accepted into the major before the moratorium goes into effect will be able to finish their degrees.
“Existing declared majors will be supported through the completion of their degrees as long as they continue to make progress,” Newcomer said.
When the moratorium was approved, Hooper said he was relieved to find out that new applicants would be accepted before it went into effect so more people could participate in the program.
According to Newcomer, the science and engineering department will continue to seek funding for the vehicle program in the upcoming budget cycle.
“We are not giving up,” Newcomer said. “The point was not to completely close down, but to stop doing something that we know is substandard relative to everything else.”
While the program is in moratorium, Hooper said he hopes that the engineering department does not divert any equipment or space from the program, as the lab space where the program is located is the biggest in the department.
“I know there’s definitely things that the engineering department could do with that space that would not necessarily be beneficial to us,” Hooper said.
Newcomer also said the moratorium will have no impact on the WWU Racing team, a group of students who build an open-wheel formula style race car to compete in the annual Society of Automotive Engineers competition.
For more information on the vehicle design program moratorium, visit https://cse.wwu.edu/engineering-design/moratorium-faq.