Education | News

Anti-Gay Letter Published in Major Engineering Journal Stirs Outrage

Inside Higher Ed reports that an anti-gay letter published in Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education, is stirring controversy:

Mag_prism"We would do well to teach the truth about the homosexual /lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender lifestyle. These dear people caught up in this destructive way of life need true help and true hope and not encouragement or approval of a detrimental, negative lifestyle. They deserve better than that. This is not God’s plan for their lives," says the letter, from Wayne A. Helmer, professor of mechanical engineering at Arkansas Tech University. He continued: "Beyond the physical, their emotional and spiritual needs are just like ours: Their need for abundant life (emotional) and forgiveness of sins (spiritual) is only what Jesus Christ can give them [John 10:10, 13:16]. Only he can truly change lives and give people the healing and forgiveness and self-worth and significance that they [and we] all desire and need."

The letter prompted the association's president (Kenneth F. Galloway of Vanderbilt University), president-elect (Nicholas J. Altiero of Tulane University) and immediate past president (Walter J. Buchanan of Texas A&M University) to take the unusual step of issuing a joint letter denouncing their own publication for publishing Helmer's piece. "His specious mischaracterization of homosexuality is unsupported by any reputable literature," the letter said. "Professor Helmer is entitled to his religious beliefs. However, Prism is not an appropriate place for him to air his judgment of others based on those beliefs."

Norman L. Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education, said he stands by the decision to publish the letter, though readers have been almost universally on the side of those who disagree.

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  1. An engineering journal? Really? The Evangelicals apparently think they can spread their propaganda anywhere they choose. What's next, TV Guide?

    Posted by: Jack M | Sep 24, 2013 7:51:52 AM

  2. What's next, Prism? Eva Braun's favorite recipes?

    Posted by: AngelaChanning | Sep 24, 2013 8:04:19 AM

  3. It would be interesting to know the relevance of that letter to engineering, American or otherwise.

    Posted by: Chris Park | Sep 24, 2013 8:09:55 AM

  4. It would also be interesting to see how Mr. Fortenberry (see link) squares this publication with the ASEE's stated goal of "the inclusion of individuals that represent variations in gender, race, ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, nationality and other non-visible differences resulting in an environment rich in intellectual variety and respect for the individual, and optimally suited to address the technological needs of the future."

    Posted by: Vint | Sep 24, 2013 8:14:30 AM

  5. An engineering journal.

    Clearly it is a journal of absolutely no merit whatsoever if it thinks that publishing superstitious, religious mumbo jumbo is appropriate for the magazine.

    Posted by: MaryM | Sep 24, 2013 8:16:17 AM

  6. Write him and let him know what you think:

    Posted by: johnny | Sep 24, 2013 8:19:45 AM

  7. What in the hell is this engineering society's executive director Norman Fortenberry trying to prove with the publication of a religious letter in a scientific journal - a letter that has nothing to do with engineering? Didn't he just prove that oil and water don't mix?? This is a very strange move on his part - very strange indeed. And, as to professor (and pseudo minister) Helmer, the letter's author, he needs to get a life and stay out of the private lives of others.

    Posted by: HadenoughBS | Sep 24, 2013 8:25:30 AM

  8. Old saw about Sunlight=Disinfectant, anyone?

    I'm an engineer. We are all human. Some are wack-a-doodle, too. We are lefties, righties, indies, straight, bisexual, queer, gay, religious, apostate, atheist, sensible, risk-taking, et cetera.

    You'd think that as applied scientists we would be more rational than this; but, hey, human, remember?

    Unfortunately, I've looked through the entire pdf of the issue of Prism that supposedly had the letter and cannot find a page of letters to the editor. Maybe my sight is faulty. I really wanted to read it for myself, as well as the full text of Fortenberry's response to Galloway.

    Posted by: olympiasepiriot | Sep 24, 2013 8:37:56 AM

  9. The cover text is ironic.. 'Past Forward, for 120 years engineering educators have helped spur progress'.... Until this issue..that is. A long run has come to an end.

    Posted by: Stevetalbert | Sep 24, 2013 8:38:10 AM

  10. When has a Letter to the Editor ever changed anyone's mind about anything? Even what we write here doesn't matter at all. If you agree, you're already on the same page. If you disagree, no light bulb is going to go off in your head saying "Now I get it." So, in the end, who cares what this guy wrote?

    Posted by: Neil | Sep 24, 2013 8:56:34 AM

  11. The association's board should fire Norman Fortenberry. Problem solved.

    Posted by: crispy | Sep 24, 2013 8:57:59 AM

  12. Why is the publisher still employed?
    Not sure this is really a professional journal, more like an association magazine. In either case, not appropriate in any forum.

    Posted by: James W Shiffer | Sep 24, 2013 9:00:36 AM

  13. Oh it was worth publishing the letter just to print the riposte from the editor.

    Arkansas + Jesus = Sanctimonious moron

    Posted by: Chaz | Sep 24, 2013 9:00:59 AM


    It's TERRIBLE PR and makes us look like bitchy tyrants. It plays right into THEIR hands.

    Posted by: Chaz | Sep 24, 2013 9:01:45 AM

  15. "It's TERRIBLE PR and makes us look like bitchy tyrants. It plays right into THEIR hands."

    How so? The members of the association are the ones who are outraged and nearly unanimously responded negatively to the letter. Gay media seems to be just now finding out about it long after the fact.

    From a purely editorial perspective, it's just poor judgment to publish a letter that has nothing to do with the mission of the association, engineering education.

    Posted by: crispy | Sep 24, 2013 9:14:01 AM

  16. The author Wayne Helmer, is a Professor ?
    Seriously ?
    Mechanical Engineering ?
    Ha ha ha.
    Obviously no great intellectual........I guess wide reading and understanding of the development of human civilization has not been a big part of the engineering curriculum/studies.
    I would have thought this dude would have some grasp of the empirical experience of living in a multi faceted society. Obviously not.
    He resorts to religious cant; our "destructive lifestyle"......detrimental negative lifestyle"
    Where has he been ?
    Does he know that all of western Europe has moved beyond his narrow minded bile ?
    Some of us are very happy in relationships for years with very responsible positions ( in real life, not academia) which have been earned by hard work, productivity and competence......hardly a detrimental negative lifestyle.
    And we are rightly proud of who we are. This idiot's views are so irrational as to be just ignorant.
    A Professor ?

    This letter has been written by a Miss Havisham, who was jilted at the alter and has turned into one bitter queen.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Sep 24, 2013 9:36:44 AM

  17. Christian right's insidious attempts at discrediting science by causing people to question the sources they turn to for facts and information?

    I must agree with some of the other posters here. This Fortenberry caricature has no business in a position of authority at Prism if he feels this was a relevant and positive move for his journal... unless Prism is moving to the Social Engineering arena. Then he's spot on, and this move will certainly serve to alienate the engineering community from anything that has to do with religion...

    ...and Prism.

    Posted by: MikeInSanJose | Sep 24, 2013 9:37:22 AM

  18. Presidents have come from Vanderbilt, Tulane and Texas A&M and the letter writer was from Arkansas Tech. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? Is this the Journal of the American Society for Engineering Education of the Dixie Society for Engineering Education and Fundamentalist Christian Philosophy?

    Posted by: TampaZeke | Sep 24, 2013 9:39:01 AM

  19. of = or

    Posted by: TampaZeke | Sep 24, 2013 9:39:33 AM

  20. "The author Wayne Helmer, is a Professor ?"

    Probably the most unfortunate aspect of this whole story. Imagine being one of his students.

    And you just know he can't shut up about Jesus in his classroom.

    Posted by: crispy | Sep 24, 2013 9:58:20 AM

  21. And this typical shove-it-down-our-throats fundamentalist filth has to do with engineering education because......?

    With each and every passing day, I come to loathe and despise evangelical christians more and more and more.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Sep 24, 2013 10:16:39 AM

  22. Does Arkansas Tech University teach "maniacal engineering" beside mechanical engineering?

    Posted by: duh | Sep 24, 2013 10:38:20 AM

  23. Arkansas Tech? Would you hire any of their graduates to do so much as tighten a screw?

    Posted by: jomicur | Sep 24, 2013 10:53:22 AM

  24. I would express surprise that an educated man believes in all that religious nonsense, but then look at all the Mensa members we have on internet forums who believe in Global Warming Theology.

    Posted by: Hagatha | Sep 24, 2013 11:10:51 AM

  25. Did any of you guys pay attention? Helmer was writing in response to an article about increasing diversity in engineering that specifically mentioned gays and lesbians. You can still argue that the letter should not have been published, but you can't argue that it was irrelevant.

    Posted by: rdm | Sep 24, 2013 11:29:19 AM

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