Point of Beginning

Letters to the Editor

December 20, 2002
Readers respond to Bob Foster's column On the Level, from October 2002, and Milton Denny's column Planning Ahead, from November 2002.

Editor’s Note: The following is an exchange between Gary Kent, recent past president of ACSM, and Bob Foster, POB columnist and past president of ACSM, on the “New ACSM” plan.

On the Level
October 2002

Bob, I read your article in the latest POB with interest. You raise a number of valid issues that were (and are) also on the minds of even those who support the plan. I have not gone back to research your comment about why this plan was kept in the dark until FIG, but without checking into it I can only say that the task force did not correspond as a group nor meet until the FIG meeting. We met for two full days immediately prior to the convention and the outline of the plan was created at that time. Some “meat” was put on the bones over the next day or two so there was something of substance to present to the various MO Boards and the Council of Sections. There was no work done ahead of time by the group or at least none that I am aware of. I suppose it is possible that some members of the task force corresponded prior to the session but if they did I did not condone it nor would I have supported it.

The only other possibility (if there is a perception that the work was done ahead of time) is that what came out of the session was a plan somewhat similar to what the NSPS Restructure Committee has been studying and proposing over the last three years or more. Given that, I suppose it could appear that this was a fait accompli, although I don’t believe that any of those involved in the task force would say that (with perhaps one exception who felt that the process limited what was looked at. The only answer I had to that is that any task force with limited time has to work through the options and move ahead or nothing will ever get accomplished. The fact that there was support for the plan from all members of the task force, and unqualified support from all but that one member, testifies to the broad support within the group).

Personally, I do not believe for an instant that what came out as the “plan” was destined to come out when we went in. I purposely assembled a group of intelligent, thoughtful members who had an understanding and interest in ACSM but that were not “yes” people. I wanted people who would “think out of the box” (to use an overused term) and who would not be afraid to be bold. Certainly, a number of people there were familiar with—and even involved in—the NSPS restructure committee, but I do not think that that prevented them from seriously studying and considering any viable options. Not only that, but I made sure we had a very good professional facilitator who would have smelled this sort of thing occurring and stopped it.

I’d be glad to hear more from you on this. The issues you raise are good ones.

Bob Foster Responds:

Thanks for your response, Gary. It was as thoughtful and well-ordered as I would have expected.

I guess my main concern is my personal opinion that surveyors can afford to do nothing that separates—or appears to separate—them from their related professionals. More than ever these days, we need not only the strength of numbers but the diversity of views and wisdom of people like the geodesists and cartographers. As surveyors back themselves into the corner of their own specific discipline they (we) remove themselves further from the broader land administration field that surveying is moving into in other parts of the world.

I believe that our position in the great scheme of things in the future depends on our ability to be—and to be seen as—experts in all aspects of land identification, land use, land transfer, land tenure, land value and so on. Establishing lines and corners is vital but as these values become digitally historic and as more people have access to the wonders of GPS, the land surveyor will likely become a minor actor. It may not happen in our lifetime but the thinkers of the profession ought to consider the possibilities and significances for the future.

Consequently, I feel that the organization should be going in the opposite direction from that proposed; we should not be separating our disciplines, even organizationally. In fact I don’t even believe that “ACSM” is an adequate title. I would like us all to belong to something like the “American Congress on Surveying, Mapping and Land Administration” (though that would be an awkward handle) with the society organized into disciplines as was originally the intent. I believe that the reorganization that did away with the old divisions sent us down the wrong road and it’s a road that leads to limited significance.

I respect the good intentions and care brought to the subject by your committee. I don’t suggest hidden motives and I hope you didn’t read that into my article. We are all different and have different perspectives depending on where we come from and what our experience has been. It is in that spirit that I offer my comments and I appreciate your consideration, acknowledging your firm and valuable leadership role in ACSM.

Gary Kent Responds:

Bob, I really appreciate your comments and the spirit in which you offer them. I could not agree with you more on the future of surveying. And I agree that the train is coming, although the date of arrival is still open to debate. Many would agree that ACSM headed down the wrong path with the elimination of the Divisions. Certainly, there has been a tension ever since between those who see the train coming and those who would either like to ignore it, who don’t understand where the profession is going, or perhaps more likely, simply have a different interpretation of what the future will bring.

With regard to the New ACSM and how all of this relates, I would like to think that with the confidence that will come to the MOs by virtue of each being responsible for its own destiny, they will be more willing and able to explore and dialogue on their collective futures. Without doubt, though, both I and many others who support the plan have concerns over what it will bring. One thing is certain, I believe, and that is that the path the organization is on leads to a dead end.

I am not at all convinced that the plan will be approved and if it is not, I will be thrilled because a better plan will be developed. Any successful organization, whether it is a not-for-profit or a private company, becomes and remains so because it recognizes its environment and constantly adapts itself by adjusting its vision of the future. That is the key to ACSM’s future also.

What do you think about the “New ACSM”? Continue this conversation by sending a letter to brownl@bnp.com.

Planning Ahead
November 2002

A.C. Mulford hit the nail squarely on the head. His insight is as true today and reminded me of what we are and why we practice in this field. My acknowledgement of duty to my client and to the profession, when I believe the job at hand is complete, is to place myself before a mythical judge who asks: “And just how did you reach your conclusion?” Part of the difficulty with practical, academic training may lie with ABET accreditation requirements or whatever body limits hands-on training versus highly technical aspects. There seems to be an imbalance toward the latter. All students would benefit from exposure to actual surveying work and to direct contact with practicing professionals, perhaps via an internship program supported jointly by the state learning institutions and working survey offices. Money grants may be available from the government at large. What should be mandatory is joining your local surveying society to share information and learn things you were too shy or too green to ask while in school.

J. F. Friden, PE, PLS
via E-mail

The ideas and opinions expressed by our readers do not necessarily reflect those of POB.

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