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Subject: AIC certification plan

AIC certification plan

From: Niccolo Caldararo <caldararo<-at->
Date: Monday, January 5, 2009
In reading Patricia Griffin's response to Chris Augerson's
constructive and thoughtful article on certification I am sadly
struck by the recurrent, almost "Ground hog Day" aspect to this
ongoing malaise.  Ms. Griffin refers mistakenly to the suggestion
some years ago that conservation use the model of auditors (she
remembers it as engineers or architects) as a means of addressing
the issue of certification or "qualification," as some people put it
then. This took place around a couple of drawn out battles over the
issue, especially at the Philadelphia AIC meeting. I posted a
summary of that struggle on July 6, 2003 (see Conservation DistList
Instance: 17:10 Monday, July 7, 2003), focusing my remarks, as I had
at the conference, on the issue of standards of practice, especially
the lack of a uniform code of practice as demonstrated in other
fields, especially medicine.  Where other fields mature and produce
textbooks as agreement in practice becomes widespread, we have
produced few. Most like Plenderleith and Werner are tolerated if
that.  When Nathan Stolow and I proposed a textbook some years ago,
we were told by some reviewers from AIC that, they were not needed.

As I show in my July 6, 2003 remarks the failure to develop
standards of practice has spilled over into a two fold tendency that
really emanates from a central desire among the advocates of
certification. This desire is for status and recognition of the
field in institutions.  One can agree with this desire.  However,
the means to achieve this goal have become convoluted, and in my
opinion, self-defeating for the field.

As Chris noted the process to become a PA or Fellow is well
established and quite straight forward; that proposed for
certification is opaque and unclear. Hiding what conservators do,
reflected in the distaste for textbooks, is shown in another
attitude or tendency in the two-fold process.  This is in the
general control of publications, both in the suppression of the
Preprints, editorial controls over the specialty group publications,
and the JAIC.  The outcome has been to publish and distribute as
little as possible and especially of actual treatments.

For anyone who has read the JAIC or Studies in recent years it is
rare that you find a treatment article.  Most of what is published
in the JAIC or Studies today are scientific articles or art history.
The general idea seems to be that treatment articles are
embarrassments.  They evoke emotional responses in people outside
our field and some people feel that demeans our regard as
professionals. So, as one editor told me, "...the less ammunition
they have the better." This is all covered over by statements of the
editorial board at meetings and in print by saying that no one is
submitting treatments.  This is simply  not true.  But that is
another story.

My July 6, 2003 post has a list of articles by subject in the JAIC
from 1978 to 2003.  The story is the same to date. But worse than
this is the fact that we are not interested in duration of
treatments, in how long they last or what effects they have.
Certainly there is concern on the individual level, but when
long-term studies are done, as in the article I published in Studies
or the work done by Stone at CCI, people were nervous.  How can a
science advance without statistics?  How can we determine the value
of the work we are doing without comprehensive analysis of
treatments over time? This is how all other sciences have advanced.

I do not think that conservation has advanced an iota because of
this two fold tendency. It has created an impediment to the advance
of theory and practice in the field.  We cannot be concerned
entirely with how others see us, we have to focus on attention on
what we are doing and improve it.  I have begun another approach,
since materials for education at the programs are not available for
analysis and no one has produced comparative or critical assessments
of these materials or teaching methods.

Ms. Pietruszewski's comments on the contradictions in the bylaws
should be immediately addressed and she is correct that evaluations
of the programs is certainly important.  I have begun to analyze the
publications of students from the different programs as a means of
assessing the skills they receive in contrast.  It is obvious that
there are individual differences, but there should be some variation
associated with the instruction that may then be compared to
non-program published treatments.  Perhaps this will result in some
practical information that will be relevant to the current
discussion when finished.  However, one trend I have noticed is that
few program graduates are publishing papers on treatments and, if
they do, few publish as individuals as opposed to non-program
conservators.  Our university certificate programs are evaluated by
the various state and national boards that accredit the
institutions.  These are usually public record.  The programs should
provide the discipline with similar evaluations.

Still, Chris is right why should graduates of programs have to pass
an examination after they graduate?  Some have pointed to various
other professions as I noted in my introduction.  If state by state
examinations for lawyers has made better lawyers, it seems unlikely.
The same could be argued for the medical profession. Do we have less
malpractice in the USA than in countries where there is no Board
Certification?  If I can paraphrase him correctly, I believe Jack
Thompson has argued for several decades that all certification
amounts to is restraint of trade, that those who cannot treat well
try and restrain those who can from practicing.  I do not agree
entirely with this perspective but I have to add that my list of
conservators who have been in the national news in the past 30 years
have rarely been AIC members.  The most recent example is on page 23
of the January-February issue of the American Auto Association's
magazine, VIA.

Shelly Smith's experience of finding AIC membership actually
detrimental to hiring in government or government projects is
interesting.  I have noted that even the NPS avoids using AIC
members on projects due to cost, hiring the low bid, or in the case
of the cleaning of the Mr. Rushmore sculptures, free publicity.  Ms.
Pietruszewski's comments are also of interest as she refers to the
issue of applicants from "recognized conservation programs" having
to take the test.  This is a problem as there are no "recognized
programs." I have taken issue with a number of employers offering
jobs with this requirement and challenged them to defend it.  They
then argued that the AIC recognized some programs.  This is not
true.  It would be of interest for the AIC to certify programs, like
some professional organizations, but in studying the notes of the
program meetings I doubt that an agreed upon basis could be arrived
at.  If that cannot happen then why certification of graduates?

As for the struggle for certification.  It will go on.  I produced a
history of the certification struggle in an article in the AIC News
in November 2003.  Certification had been voted down by the
membership consistently until the recent "victory."  It has been a
waste of our energy, it has been divisive and distracted us from
roads we should have taken in a constructive effort to advance our
field.  Seven Prins is correct in his post that the statistic cited
by Bonnie Baskin--that 78.4% of members polled did not reply--is a
telling result.  But the AIC leadership has been confident that if
they were persistent the opposition would retire or die off or just
get tired of the struggle.

I acknowledged this in a private conversation with Terry
Drayman-Weisser some years ago and cautioned her that the cost would
not be worth the victory, but I hoped that if they won at least we
would not find a further class system develop.

As a professor of Anthropology I am all for intellectual activity
and a proficiency in scientific knowledge, but I do not want to see
an examination system develop that will push people out of the
organization who do not test well but are excellent practitioners
and I am rather flummoxed by the mania for testing in general in our
society.  Assessments are in some ways impediments to evaluation of
skills and knowledge.  What people can do as opposed to what they
can display on a test is considerable in many cases and depends on
the design of the assessment and the means of scoring it.  The
demeaning of treatment and benchwork is destructive and will only be
corrected by the creation of a new AIC or by a new generation of
conservators who will no longer tolerate this useless and
self-destructive path.  The number of non-AIC practicing restorers
and conservators grows every day in the vacuum of an AIC approach to
widening the "tent" of practice.  We are like an ostrich ignoring
our situation while we contemplate our appearance.  There could be
no more dangerous path for a field that aspires to scientific
recognition and public acceptance.

Perhaps the Appelbaum and Himmelstein letter and that by Augerson
will ignite a new response to end this struggle.  At the Los Angeles
meeting the General Assembly could consider the issue again. Ballots
could then be sent out to all members in June to be returned in
September with a clear up or down on certification.  Do we want it
or not.  Perhaps that would end it, I certainly hope so.  But each
time in the past such open discussion occurred certification was
defeated but its adherents only saw defeat as delay.

Niccolo Caldararo
Director and Chief Conservator
Conservation Art Service
San Francisco

                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:39
                Distributed: Saturday, January 17, 2009
                       Message Id: cdl-22-39-001
Received on Monday, 5 January, 2009

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