This is typically a time to take stock of the past year and make resolutions for the new year to come. But the first of January (at least in the modern calendar) also marks the birthdate of American patriot Paul Revere.
Revere is best remembered for his midnight ride in April 1775 to alert the colonial militia of the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord. This singular event, immortalized in the Longfellow poem, overshadows Revere’s long and distinguished military service as a member of Massachusetts’s militia throughout the Revolutionary War.
That’s a shame. Because the historical significance of Paul Revere’s ride is far larger than the credit he deserves in raising the alarm. It was more than that. It was a call to action that helped to mobilize 13 colonies for a long and difficult effort to form a unified nation. The battles in Lexington and Concord occurred in just one of those colonies, but what happened there was important to the survival not only of Massachusetts, but also of the very idea of the new nation. Making that new nation a reality required more than a military response to direct threats: The 13 colonies had to find a governing structure that preserved local independence in a balance that served the needs of the United States of America. That was a difficult and contentious project, requiring courage and compromise, but as Benjamin Franklin would note at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “Now we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
The professional engineering community has seen more than its share of events in the past year that should raise an alarm for those who value the concept of professional licensure. A Wall Street Journal op-ed on November 25, 2017, (carrying the provocative title “Licenses to Kill Opportunity”) was but the latest articulation of a deregulatory trend with licensure as its target…a trend that too often fails to draw any distinction between occupational and professional licensure, characterizing all forms of state licensure as drags on the economy that block employment opportunities and upward mobility.
That trend extends beyond ill-informed rhetoric from think tanks, in the press, and on social media. As the NSPE website tracks and regularly reports, executive, legislative, and regulatory actions across the country are underway. Some are direct assaults on the PE license; others make the PE an unintended victim of their potentially fatal fire; some are more serious than others.
But all serve as a reminder of the importance of ongoing, coordinated, and comprehensive efforts by all the partners—state and national—who make up NSPE to champion the PE license. Maybe no serious threat has impacted you directly in your own state yet, but we must, indeed, “all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
The nature of the threats, as well as the opportunities, facing professional engineers changes over time, but a November post to state and national leaders in NSPE’s Communities by Past President Tim Austin, P.E., F.NSPE, reminds us that the need and the potential for unified action, and the organizational challenges of making it happen, are not a recent development for this Society:
“The NSPE leadership over the past several years has re-emphasized the nature of the NSPE organization (a partnership of 54 unique organizations that have come together for common goals) however, there still seems to be, perhaps, an ‘us or them’ mentality in some of the ongoing discussions.… ‘Us or them’ can lead to isolationism and balkanization. Such concepts and this debate are not new to the organization. They have existed from the time NSPE was created and frankly were part of the very reasons for which NSPE was created. The founders of NSPE recognized that greater purpose and strength could be realized if all states came together to achieve mutual goals. These underlying and mutual goals are engrained into our DNA. So, it is not ‘us or them’ but rather ‘all of us,’ 54 partners working for common goals and mutual success.
“I highly encourage state and national leaders to read Building for Professional Growth [a history of NSPE’s first 50 years] for a greater understanding of the political dynamic of the founding struggles and the mutual values that have brought us together. You will find that the current debate and discussions are not new, as history has a way of repeating itself.”
Today more than ever, we must take the stream of events we read in these pages (and elsewhere) as more than a sounding of the alarm. Or worse, alarms you can ignore when they happen in some other state. They must be a call to action by and among the united partnership of state, local, and national components that, collectively, make up NSPE.
Download Building for Professional Growth as an e-book.
Published February 22, 2018 by Mark J. Golden, CAE, FASAE