Dear Editor,

Both Harold Baldwin (“Guest Column: Less Education Is Not Surveying’s Solution,” Oct. 2015) and Philip E. Adams (“Guest Column: Why Licensure Requirements Need to be Revamped,” Oct. 2015) have useful comments, but fail to hit the target in the center.

The reasons there are so few academic programs in four-year universities and colleges for surveying education are well known in the academic world, if not well publicized: (1) it is viewed as a data collection skill and is not suitable for graduate-level education, which means (2) that it does not offer much in the way of peer-reviewed publications and research opportunities in the basic sciences. If you can’t do research and get tenure, then few academics at four-year colleges will be interested in supporting a surveying education program.

Even GIS education suffers some in this regard, although it serves to bring in significant funding for technical education at otherwise skeptically viewed departments, such as those in geography. If anything, the number of geomatics programs in the U.S. that include surveying in the mix with other geospatial areas of education has been steadily declining over the last 10 years. It doesn’t help that the number of possible students of undergraduate surveying education offerings is relatively low. So, to put it bluntly, there will never be a sufficient number of academic surveying programs in four-year colleges and universities to educate the number of replacement surveyors needed by the profession.

The only chance for the profession to survive is to embrace the existing and develop new two-year community college surveying programs. I suggest that one way to do so is to expand the application scope of the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence, a.k.a. the GeoTech Center (www.geotechcenter.org), a collection of community colleges and other smaller institutions now developing and offering GIS-related education programs. It is a promising sign the group already lists surveying as one of the geospatial careers it recognizes (www.geotechcenter.org/geospatial-careers.html). The GeoTech Center bases its educational focus on the Geospatial Technology Competency Model, within which it would be a straightforward effort to add a surveying competency extension at the top level.

While we are on the topic of reform, I again want to express my view that state-level licensure poorly serves the surveying profession and its clients. While some states have tentatively explored complete removal of licensure requirements or changes that would allow a subset of practitioners to be less qualified than others, the rapid progress and introduction of new tools and technologies are acting to increase the pressure on state legislatures to see modern surveying as sharing little in common with the boundary surveyors of the last century, when most statutory foundations were established.

The problem is, of course, as Jeffery N. Lucas consistently notes in his “Traversing The Law” columns, that the heart of boundary surveying lies not in the technology of location and measurement, but in the law and the evidence and judgment upon which true boundary surveying is based. While I agree that field experience is useful for boundary surveyors to be fully qualified for practice, slashing through the brush to find the elusive monument is of little practical use to someone doing LiDAR, GIS or aerial photography. It also fails to emphasize the legal underpinnings of what is truly the “public safety and welfare” aspect of the currently defined surveying profession: property boundaries and rights.

Setting the foundation for the entire surveying profession at the level of boundary surveying, and then seeing areas of specialization as extensions of that foundation, ignores the fundamental difference in the way these various geospatial careers are practiced — and ignores their different fundamental sciences. Many applications of geospatial technology don’t use monuments at all, as there is no hard-and-fast physical thing to actually find in the real world, e.g., habitat mapping. Surveyors get little or no training on how to deal with indeterminate boundaries that are based on characteristics and behavioral models.

The future model for the surveying profession needs to move away from state licensure and towards technical certification if, for no other reason, than to allow some control by the profession over the application of new technologies by developing professional practice standards that are uniform across the country. It poorly serves the public and the licensed professional for each state to set its own requirements for how the profession is to be practiced when the vast majority of activities are uniformly accomplished nationwide. Boundary surveying, which has some state-specific elements, needs to be addressed separately from the other, purely technical aspects of what is seen today as a monolithic surveying profession with a single set of legal licensure requirements. The difficulties of moving to another state can’t be helpful in recruiting today’s students.

J. Allison Butler, AICP
Orlando, Fla.