Two Oregon Boards Attack Free Speech

An Engineer Can’t Call Himself an Engineer in Oregon

Oregon engineer Mats Järlström, was slapped with a $500 fine by the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. His crime? Sending them a helpful letter, one in which he (accurately) identified himself as an engineer.

According to the Board, no one but a licensed professional engineer can call himself an “engineer” in Oregon. Never mind that Järlström’s observations might save lives. Järlström is suing, with assistance from the Institute of Justice. (See the IJ article, Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Law Prohibiting Mathematical Criticism Without a License.)

The idea that Oregon’s engineers like me can’t call themselves “engineers” came as a big surprise to everyone. Even to Oregon’s engineers. Actually, especially to Oregon’s engineers. Why? Because licensing boards are like pointy-haired bosses, entirely antithetical to the serous, get-‘er-done mindset of engineers. They’re have nothing to contribute and are painful to listen to, so we don’t. Boards are, in a word, silly.

A Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, fewer than one-third (13 of 45) of the faculty can be bothered to register as licensed professional engineers.

Nationwide, it’s much the same. Only 487,000 out of the estimated 2,000,000 engineers are registered as “professional engineers.”

When I was an undergraduate at Oregon State University, we looked down on licensed engineers, their board, and the horse they rode in on. “Not real engineers,” we felt. This is a sophomoric attitude, perhaps, but it’s hard to alter when things like the Mats Järlström decision keep coming down the pike.

Update, June 2, 2017

The Federal court takes action. A Federal court recently held that Mats Järlström can continue to do math and call himself an engineer pending his Federal court case against the Board.

Continuing press coverage. Mats Järlström continues to get an immense amount of press, none of which is favorable to the Board. Here are some links to articles about the case:

If the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying could somehow manage to get a tenth this much interest doing something sensible, they’d be revered. Instead, they’ve become a laughingstock.

But it’s all good. It’s a public service to raise awareness that just about anyone becomes a pompous imbecile when you put them on a licensing board. Even such level-headed creatures as engineers. So there’s little hope for anyone in that environment.

I throw my hat into the ring. And since I don’t know when to leave well enough alone, I’ve thrown my own hat into the ring by sending the following letter to the Board:

We’ll see if the Board has the courage of its convictions.

Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board Sues Newspaper

The Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board is an interesting body. They’re the ones who decide when a felon who avoided conviction by reason of insanity is now sane, and can be released. Sometimes this ends happily, sometimes it doesn’t.

Once recent example of just how badly this can end was when the Board approved the release of Anthony W. Montwheeler, who quickly used his new freedom to kill two people and injure a third. (Many thanks to Bill Harbaugh of UOMatters, who alerted me to this story.)

The local paper, the Malheur Enterprise, covered this tragedy, of course, and requested relevant records in the ordinary course of their reporting. The state ordered these records released. But instead of releasing the records, the Board sued the newspaper! See the story here.

Why would anyone sue a newspaper for daring to (gasp!) report on news? Well, if you had a suspicious turn of mind, you might think that the Board was cravenly covering up its own incompetence. But no! The board insists that it is valiantly protecting Montwheeler’s rights.

To handle this lawsuit, the Board hired the law firm of  Harrang, Long, Gary & Rudnick. This  was an interesting choice, since the firm has a track record for bumbling such cases. In a similar lawsuit two years ago, a board was attempting to conceal records from Eugene’s Register-Guard newspaper. This effort ended abruptly when the law firm accidentally mailed all the records in question to the Register-Guard.

We’ll never know what additional mistakes the Board was planning on making, because Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown said, “Enough already,” and told the Board to release the records.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for a governor to have to intervene personally to force a board to behave within the law.

Given their penchant for bad decisions in other spheres, I can’t say I sleep better at night knowing that the Psychiatric Security Review Board is on the job.

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