Letters for July 2007

Land surveying: Profession or trade?
I just read [Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.’s] perspective on land surveying in the April issue of CE News (page 18), and wanted to thank you for addressing the subject. There is a dire shortage of professional land surveyors (P.L.S.) here in California, poor pass rates for examinees, and I am somewhat worried as to where things are heading.

As you may know, prior to 1982, professional civil engineers could practice land surveying as well. Because of a large amount of low quality work conducted by civils working outside their area of expertise, the public suffered, and the state made passing of the P.L.S. exam mandatory. I can see the day coming, though, where they either significantly lower the exam standards or, with the advancements in technology, they begin to let civils or GIS folks do survey work, viewing surveying from a purely mathematical perspective.

I am a geomatics engineering graduate of California State University-Fresno, and have spent half of my career in Canada (Alberta) where they have had mandatory university requirements for over 20 years. I find it interesting that the two major universities in Canada with geomatics engineering programs (Univ. of Calgary, and Univ. of New Brunswick) are impacted with students, and the universities [in California] are struggling to keep their programs going. One thing different in Canada is that a geomatics engineering graduate is able to attain licensure as a professional engineer as well as a professional land surveyor. Perhaps this is something the land surveying community ought to consider.
Christopher B. Curtis, P.L.S.



I read your article on "Land surveying: Profession or trade?" (April 2007, page 18) with much interest. I am one of the land surveyors that acquired his license by the apprenticeship method. It does make it hard to run a business when you have not had enough classes in accounting, technical writing, etc. Night classes and continuing education have greatly helped. Trial and error is not a good way to conduct your business. I agree with Track 1 and Track 2 as ways of obtaining your license. Usually, a person can get all the required education at the local technical college or university by taking night classes. Land surveyors like me [who] do not have the education or training in running a business might be great surveyors, but are sorely lacking in business skills.
Terry M. Watson



I have read [Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.’s column] many times and respect [his] opinion. However, in my state (California) you cannot get experience as responsible charge in land surveying unless you are licensed. In addition, I beg to differ [that] 12 college credit hours in land surveying [is] equivalent to two years or more in board-approved curriculum and an additional six years of experience of "progressive character" in land surveying. I believe Track 2 will give you more qualified professional land surveyors.
Bob Burdette, Jr.



In regard to [Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.’s] article, "Land surveying: Profession or trade? Part 2" (June 2007, page 18), I must agree with the comments, "The public and our professions [both in engineering and land surveying] need a better educated and prepared practitioner. Those [who] promote something else are simply trying to degrade and devalue the service provided." Note and emphasize the key words "better educated and prepared practitioner."

I can honestly say that to be a licensed surveyor is not easy, with all of the school and testing. To be a professional surveyor is a whole different animal all together. I am licensed in Indiana and the son of a retired Michigan surveyor as well. The dictionary defines professional as, "A skilled practitioner; an expert and persons receiving pay." I feel that to be professional requires more than to be paid. At 42 years old, I have been in this business for 26 years. I have gone from Vernier to data collectors to GPS. I have seen a lot of good field surveyors who cannot be licensed because of education requirements, and many educated men obtain a license who cannot cut grass. It’s a matter of (and combination of) personal conduct and job experience that make for a true professional. Many years ago, the surveyor’s society I was part of wanted to have surveyors referred to as professionals rather than registered, so they changed the wording in their articles and the state followed along. Many other states followed in their footsteps as well. Then poof—like magic—all surveyors were professionals! Not!

There was an article written in November 2000 in a surveyors’ magazine that [discussed] a seal being granted to anyone only able to pass the national parts [of the surveyor’s test] and calling them geomatic professionals. At the time, I had passed the national parts of the surveyor’s testing but not the state-specific part. Had I never passed the state portion, I would have been very interested in it, but after passing the test, I felt very threatened by it. [Geomatic professionals] would be able to handle all aspects of land surveying except portions involving retracement of property lines.

Although I understand that Model Law has adopted wording that allows each state to support this title, I do not believe any state has adopted it. This seal must never come to light as it directly degrades land surveyors’ products and service and will not supply the public with the quality that only an experienced, registered surveyor may provide.

Education is definitely the key, but not all the traversing or calculation ability in the world can make you a professional unless you know how to conduct yourself in business and public forums. I learned how to survey by years in the field. I learned how to calculate (and check my calcs) by going to college. I learned how to do business by working close to my bosses. I am still learning to be a professional by handling each day’s needs properly, doing the right thing, and by doing it without attitude. I have P.L.S. after my name, and I earn the right to place those letters there each and every day by my conduct for that day, not because I passed a state test.
Kenneth P. Pitts, P.L.S.



My comments are in regard to the article, "Land surveying: Profession or trade?" by Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S. (April 2007, page 18).

Pagan relates comments from correspondents that "some licensed engineers and others who feel that land surveying is not a real profession, but rather an inferior trade that does not require formal education, as does a true profession." Such statements must emanate from an engineer. Surveying is indeed the oldest of professions—one from which almost all others devolve.

The practice of surveying is especially professional in comparison to engineering because every surveying problem is unique. No survey is like any other. As a result, every single application requires professional analysis and risk of opinion. By comparison, most of the practice of engineering involves using one’s education and experience to decide what predetermined solution is appropriate; what code applies here and what code there. It is perhaps the notion that such is itself professional that blinds one to the real practice thereof.

Most folks take their own paradigm and apply it to everyone else’s situations. When the engineer tries to apply his paradigm of already solved problems to the frequently uncertain detective work that is surveying, he mistakes the initial uncertainty as messy and therefore, since professional must mean neat and clean, it cannot be. This is often confirmed for him when his understanding of surveying is based on that survey camp in which he participated in his junior year: "Surveying is nothing more than turning angles and trigonometry calculations!"

Surveying predates other professions … yes, all other professions! As James Burke has so eloquently explained, before the invention of the plow, all had to live day-to-day, surviving on what he hunted or gathered or stole. What we call civilization didn’t exist. With [the plow’s] invention, the ability to produce surplus became possible and from that all things we consider civil. Some could specialize in areas not directly related to securing sustenance, such as kings and soldiers. With a surveyor, it became possible for the king to know what was whose and how much to tax to support himself and his soldiers. Now priests and healers and others could begin to specialize. We now had legitimacy without which the illegitimate enterprise often referred to as "the world’s oldest profession" couldn’t exist!

Part of the problem of licensing professional surveyors is that no one else knows what they do, yet almost everyone thinks they know what is done. Remember, the purpose of licensure is protection of the public from shysters. Since what surveyors do is unique and each survey is itself unique, codifying what they do within a structure similar to the much easier definition of engineering disciplines is difficult or impossible, and therefore frustrating. Why can’t surveyors be like others? The easy answer is, if they were like others, they wouldn’t be surveyors.

What surveyors do isn’t simply engineering. It is a quasi-judicial function also. It is also philosophical, if interpreting the intentions of dead men from their words is philosophical. It is much more practical mathematics than most engineering—perhaps we should classify it that way. It is definitely outdoors and often involves muddy boots—perhaps this is the most damning part of all.

The surveyor, like the shaman of more primitive times, is seldom welcome unless there is an intractable problem to be solved. What some commentators have most likely observed is that from this ignorance, two tiers of practitioners of surveying have been licensed since the push to do so back in the first third of the 20th century. One is highly professional and on a par with or above most any other. A second works at a level just below that, not sub-professional but with a stature not unlike a physician’s assistant is related to an M.D. The lawmakers (reflecting the public) don’t understand what surveyors do and so over simplified the laws and rules in a way that both hold the same legal credentials.

Other writers suggest that the only means to become a professional land surveyor is to be found in the halls of academia. They are sadly mistaken; a common mistake, but mistaken nonetheless. Two questions come to mind: 1) In what school should a surveying program be situated—math, philosophy, law, or engineering? Clearly, all are necessary and none is the obvious home. 2) Are 18 year olds the proper candidates for future surveyors? Anyone who has researched this question has learned that almost all well-respected surveyors did not discover that surveying was their calling before the age of 25, by which time most young folks are starting families and ill situated to return to college, at least as freshmen. The exception is he whose parent is already a surveyor.

Even with college credentials, until a surveyor has five or more years of experience under his belt, he is unlikely to be practicing at a professional level. It cannot be taught simply by classroom instruction. The primary justification for requiring a college undergraduate degree for licensure is that it seems roughly equivalent to a high school diploma of 30 to 40 year ago, and an eighth grade education of 50-plus years ago. One has the hope that the graduate can at least read at a necessary level.

Yes, I am a licensed surveyor and Certified Federal Surveyor. I also work at a university and with many college-level students. I’ve been licensed since 1990 and am active in the state society, including serving as president. I am currently governor from Louisiana for the National Society of Professional Surveyors. It is my opinion that engineers should concern themselves with monitoring and regulating their own practice, realizing they know little of the practice of the profession of surveying, with the obvious exception of someone who is a surveyor, of course.
J. Anthony Cavell, P.L.S., C.F.S.


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