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Subject: Certification


From: Paul Himmelstein <aandh>
Date: Monday, December 2, 2002
The discussion over the past week regarding certification has been
both interesting and troubling.  As others have pointed out, it is a
shame that this wide-ranging consideration of the issues has not
taken place before now,  just as we are about to vote on the next
steps towards certification. It is also a shame that the discussion
has mostly been restricted to the OSG list, and has not reached a
wider AIC audience.  Setting up a temporary "Distlist" for all AIC
members would have made it possible for a larger percentage of
members to participate.

It seems that one of the issues clouding the discussion is what
various people think certification will do, or want it to do for the
conservation profession.  One of the accepted parts of a definition
of a profession is that it has a gate-keeping function.  The
profession decides who is and who is not a professional in that
field.  With the very limited exception of the membership
categories, at present the conservation profession in the United
States does no gate-keeping.  Essentially, anyone who wants to be a
conservator is one.  This ability to self-declare separates us from
most other modern professions.  One cannot be a lawyer, doctor,
engineer, physio-therapist, etc. without a degree in the appropriate
field. Certification is not the process used by other professions to
distinguish those who *are* professionals from those who are *not*.
Rather, in most cases, certification is used as a way to distinguish
those with higher qualifications.

It seems to me that what we are doing now is trying to bypass the
question of what one should (perhaps must) have as an education in
order to become a conservator.  While not at all denying that many
of the leading practitioners of conservation are not
program-trained,  it is clear that the field has changed so
profoundly over the past thirty years that we must now recognize
that a graduate education is necessary in order to be a professional
conservator.  If it were otherwise, why would we expect students to
spend the time and money to go through one of the graduate programs?
We claim that it is still acceptable to become a conservator by
self-education, and/or through an (undefined) apprenticeship.  While
it is appealing to keep the doors open to all those who want to
become conservators, but cannot attend one of the training programs,
this generosity of spirit is holding us back as a profession.  Yes,
we gain some good conservators this way, but on balance we also
allow through the gate a large percentage of poorly "trained"
individuals who dilute the quality of our profession. Now we are
asking certification to do what we have been unwilling to do by
other, simpler means.  We want certification to distinguish between
those who are qualified to be conservators and those who are not.

At an Internal Advisory Group meeting some years ago, I raised this
issue. The discussion that followed was most interesting and
enlightening.  There was broad representation of the profession at
that meeting. Program-trained and apprenticeship-trained
conservators were there, the heads of all AIC specialty groups were
there, as well as the heads of all AIC committees, including the
membership committee.  There was almost unanimous agreement that,
given the changes in our field, currently there was really only one
way to become a truly professional conservator, and that was through
graduate education.  Those who were not program-trained among the
group felt this even more strongly than those who were.

We are stuck in a paradox.  On the one hand, we want to be as
generous as possible in allowing into our profession anyone who
wants to join us, and on the other, we are struggling to find a way
to restrict the body of practitioners to those who are qualified. We
are still trying to decide what "qualified" means, and how a person
gets the appropriate qualifications.  Obviously, good intentions are
not enough.  Is self-training, or mentored training enough?  I would
argue no--not any more.  It is all too easy for individual
conservators to forget the extensive body of knowledge that we have
worked so hard to learn, and the effort that it has taken to make
each of us into a professional.   That body of knowledge has grown
so much in the past decades that it is hard to imagine that anyone
can learn it on their own, or without the systematic presentation
that is part of an academic program.  By allowing people to
self-identify as conservators, we reduce the value of that very
education we try so hard to support.  I agree that we will lose some
talented people who might very well make fine conservators if they
had appropriate education, but we gain much more.  We take a major
step in becoming a true profession.   If we say that, from a certain
date in the near future, AIC, as the professional organization of
conservators in the US, will recognize as new professional
conservators only those individuals with a degree from an
(accredited) conservation program, we will have gone a long way
toward the ultimate goal of protecting our cultural heritage.  Then,
if we want to go beyond that, to creating a pool of individuals who
are more than minimally qualified, a certification program would
have true meaning.  Just as one becomes a Board certified physician
in a particular specialty, one could become a Certified conservator.
Instead of using certification as the initial definer of who is a
conservator, we could set the bar higher by using certification as
definition of a higher level of practice.

Paul Himmelstein

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:37
                Distributed: Wednesday, December 4, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-37-003
Received on Monday, 2 December, 2002

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