The surveyor's new clothes.

Some ancient tales and fables seem to address life's issues quite thoroughly. Aesop recognized complex social habits and then transformed them into stories easy to understand.

One particular story that addresses the foolishness of human nature was written by Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen wrote about an emperor who paid a large sum of money to two rogues to weave him the finest clothes in the land. The rogues planned to steal the money and all the fine materials they ordered, and produce nothing for the emperor. But it was to be done under the following ruse: the rogues announced that if one were stupid or unfit for one's office, one could not see the new clothes!

As the story goes, the emperor's mini-sters and assistants all report the clothes to be magnificent, each fearing that he is the only one unworthy of seeing them. In fear of admitting that one is stupid, they all play along. Finally, the new clothes are delivered to the emperor and he also plays the game of ego by claiming he can see the clothes. To admit otherwise would be disastrous, so everyone is pulled into the lie to protect their egos.

In a grand finale, the emperor marches through the streets stark naked but willing to carry on the game, believing that everyone else can see the clothes. In the end, a small child lacking ego exclaims, "But the emperor is naked!"

I have often reflected on this classic story of human nature: people get wrapped up in a cause or stand by a claim that is solely based on a ruse, yet others jump on the same bandwagon for fear of seeming different.

I wonder if such a ruse could be foisted upon my beloved profession of surveying? Might there be complex problems or issues that we have relegated to others for solutions only to find them not solved at all? And worse yet, might the profession be exclaiming the non-solutions to be magnificent and beautiful, when in fact they are not?

Surveyors' Ruses

Is the testing process for our profession working well? I don't think so. The fact that people pass or do not pass a particular test has really nothing to do with whether it is serving its purpose. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, or NCEES, is in the midst of a "re-evaluation" of the national testing process. While I strongly applaud this effort, I am still nervous. For it is NCEES that has, in my opinion, already given us a national test that evaluates knowledge of trivia, ability to perform tasks only a small percentage of the profession would encounter, or demands that one answer questions with the wrong answer.

I think the NCEES is on a not-so-subtle mission to make the test impossible to pass unless testers have a four-year degree. This arrogant effort to circumvent state laws and requirements is not acceptable. And it has resulted in a test that asks many questions totally unrelated to surveying. Frankly, test space is wasted by asking surveyors to answer questions on computer programming languages (C++ for example), while so many relevant skills go unaddressed.

The state-specific exams are not much better. I have collected dozens of examples of questions from across the country that either do not ask the right question or reward the wrong answer. Yet we are always told that while it is not a perfect system, the tests are doing the job. I strongly disagree. A state board member recently said to an audience that it was almost impossible to come up with enough good questions to fill a two-hour exam. Are you kidding me? Please, put your clothes back on!

A second issue that I fear has become a pat solution to a bigger problem is that of the four-year degree requirement. Many wanted to see surveying taken more seriously as a profession. And many of us also wanted to upgrade the skills of those entering the profession. Our solution was to hand the entire process of helping prepare the future of this profession over to academia. And we walked off, dusting our hands and thinking that somehow we solved our credibility and preparation issues. I too fell for this argument, but it is a ruse!

Do not misunderstand; I fully support formal education. Rather, the real danger is the belief that this effort alone has solved the problem. In an effort to get away from the old clothes of "apprenticeship," we accepted the ruse that a formal education could somehow replace it. It cannot and never will. What's more, ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) requirements so lustfully sought after by most schools are not surveying program friendly. Don't forget that the "E" in ABET stands for engineering!

Further, academia has replaced important surveying subjects with non-tangent subjects that "look magnificent," such as more calculus than is needed by a rocket scientist. While a heavy math background gets some in academia excited, the fact is that some very important legal skills and studies are reduced or eliminated. There is a dangerous shift in our universities to downplay the boundary side of surveying and replace it with math. There has appeared a purportedly erudite attitude that boundary surveying is just a nice little sideline, rather than the heart of the profession. Put your clothes back on!

Some educational institutions actually believe their systems' degrees all but eliminate the need for apprenticeship. While other institutions have not gone this far, all have failed to recognize the absolute necessity of lengthy on-the-job training that will last at least as long as the formal education-and probably longer. The most common complaints I hear nationwide from surveying managers stem from the results of these false educational claims: the next generation is not prepared.

Further, the requirement of the degree without recognition of another avenue to licensure was a huge mistake. Not only did this arrogantly relegate the concept of apprenticeship to the back room, it also left hundreds of highly qualified people from being considered for licensure. That has not only left us with a shortage of applicants in some parts of the country, but it has also left us with a vacuum of practical knowledge, training and skills in an otherwise well-educated staff.

Increasingly, I have been hearing some people crying out that something is wrong, that the profession is naked. At the 2003 California/Nevada Conference, ACSM's Curt Sumner, LS, used the term "kidnapped" when referring to our profession's future. He is right. And only the real professionals can rescue our future with an honest and open debate.

It is time for a reality check on the clothing of the surveying professions for the future. And you may want to bring a robe to that discussion; I too am feeling a draft. But how magnificent we think we look!