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The Case for CRM Training in Academic Institutions

Dennis B. Blanton

Many of us openly question whether traditional graduate training adequately prepares students for typical jobs in contemporary archaeology. The close of the century certainly finds archaeology a thriving discipline, but it could be argued that the term "discipline" alone is too limiting, and that we would do well to acknowledge the existence of "enterprise" within the profession. Such a vision would allow us to account for the now-dominant career option in archaeology: cultural resource management (CRM). An impressive segment of contemporary archaeologists are scholarly business sophisticates contending daily with complex legal requirements, fiscal and personnel management, and marketing strategies, not to mention research designs, potsherds, stratigraphic profiles, and preservation options. In essence, this new image would embody the professionalization of what we do.

Increasing threats to sites have made CRM essential, and as a result, archaeology is more relevant than ever. CRMers are now represented by an SAA task force on consulting archaeology and a national association of cultural resource management professionals (ACRA). As CRM practitioners have organized at an unprecedented scale, their dialogue has spotlighted a series of common concerns. Ranking prominently among them is a clamor for better training; specifically to prepare students to function within the CRM environment. Joe Schuldenrein vividly drew attention to the need for professional training in the last issue of the SAA Bulletin [13(3):22-24].

This raises the obvious question of how best to reach the goal of providing quality, CRM-specific training. Foremost among the options is to build it into academic programs. Therefore, the balance of this article will elaborate on crucial requirements for an effective, institutionally based CRM training program where the key focus is to prepare graduate students for jobs in the upper echelons of CRM organizations. To provide a context for this issue I will review lessons based on experience that reveal, as much as anything, how not to succeed at training the kind of professionals in demand.

Universities and smaller colleges are not necessarily strangers to CRM archaeology. A minority are already emphasizing CRM in parts of their programs, and doing it very well. Many faculty members or departments, however, have only sought contracts when they recognized particularly juicy research opportunities or needed to fill summer field time. Some good work has been done, and students have gained experience through these opportunistic forays into the contract world. Realistically, such projects are no better, and perhaps worse, at preparing students to function at the senior levels of CRM than would a standard field school.

Alternatively, many universities boast "centers" or "institutes" through which compliance contracts and other grant-funded projects are conducted. These operations are typically allied with, but somewhat independent of, anthropology departments, and often represent their public service branches. While it is true that these organizations ostensibly serve to offer training and research opportunities for students, the commitment to training is not so strong as to be formalized. Often, any training relevant to a CRM career is picked up seat-of-the-pants by savvy students, but most students are motivated more by the need to pay bills than by career planning. I do not mean to disparage these operations; they do provide a necessary public service and sponsor important research. Indeed, I work at one myself. It is simply a fact that the priorities of most such organizations seldom differ from private consulting firms, where monetary considerations influence decision making, as often as the research program. Under these circumstances, an effective training program for students can be a hindrance.

Anthropology departments are often no closer to producing students who can function well in positions of responsibility than typical research centers. It is frustrating, and potentially demoralizing, for eager recipients of graduate degrees (and prospective employers!) to discover that they have been prepared only to enter a CRM operation at the level of a field or lab technician. The reasons are as diverse as the fact that field schools do not address concepts of archaeological survey, or that courses have not prepared them to evaluate site significance, prepare proposals, manage crews, and simply write a decent report. It is a harsh indictment of current affairs when university-based CRM operations are reluctant or unable to fill positions of responsibility with the graduates of an anthropology department across campus!

A factor complicating the creation of formal CRM training programs at universities is adherence to the traditional ideal of a liberal arts education. Institutions committed to this tradition are often averse to any notion of professional training that might be construed as vocational education. Archaeology's niche in the realm of humanities/social sciences, as opposed to physical sciences, contributes to the resistance. The philosophical problem need not be insurmountable if anthropology departments and arts and sciences faculty maintain a commitment to traditional training for undergraduates, while embracing proven models for graduate training used by some business schools and environmental science departments.

Some colleagues maintain that universities are not the place for CRM operations, citing among other reasons their failure thus far to groom students into desirable employees. While I have elaborated on some of these shortcomings, I am satisfied that institutions can be the ideal training environment for CRM archaeologists. This can occur where anthropology departments and on-campus research centers forge strong alliances, capitalizing on the respective educational and practical experiences each staff can boast. As indicated, simply establishing archaeological research centers on campuses with anthropology faculty does not usually solve the problem. Certain fundamental requirements are necessary to succeed.

Commitment: Across the board, from the provost to field technicians, there must be a genuine commitment to the training program. Everyone must agree that a priority will be placed on producing students capable of "hitting the ground running" at CRM firms upon graduation. This will require formalization of a CRM "track" in graduate archaeology programs. In particular, the university administration must be comfortable with the concept of job training, anthropology faculty must agree to advise and teach CRM students, and research center managers must afford the time to shepherd students through hands-on training requirements. Agreement on these principles will prevent situations that plague unsuccessful programs such as the temptation for research center managers to use their positions only as a stepping stone toward teaching positions, the advertisement of a CRM track just to bait students, and treatment of CRM-oriented students as second-class citizens.

Resources: Another critical component of university training is the research center, which actually functions day-to-day in the CRM world and provides the outlet for practical, hands-on experience. This organization must itself be formally structured, officially supported by the parent institution, and recognized by the SHPO in order to play an effective role. This implies that a center should consist of separate office and lab space, requisite equipment, and independent staff, as well as demonstrated success in contract completion. A phantom organization that exists only in a desk drawer is not adequate. In effect, a successful research center must be capable of filling the dual role of serving clients in need of cultural resource studies, and designing a program of student involvement that will satisfy the requirements of the department's CRM track. This criterion depends upon senior staff members that can actually play the dual role, serving both as principal investigators and instructors. The two do not have to be incompatible if the other requirements are in place.

Funding: A barometer of the commitment an institution has to a quality training program is the level of funding it offers. It is difficult, at best, for senior research center staff to succeed in a dual role without hard money support. Otherwise, any potential release time that might be devoted to students would be consumed by the demands of contract administration and marketing; soft money staff have no more time or inclination to sustain a training program than most private contractors. How funding is obtained can vary, but at least one option is to earmark a large portion of indirect costs to support research center staff involved in student training.

Curriculum: Designing a curriculum for CRM track graduate students will require the knowledge of CRM practice that research center staff possess, and the input of anthropology faculty familiar with university and departmental academic policies. It would also be wise to consult private contractors for their thoughts on the essential elements of a train-ing program. I cannot imagine that any of us would advocate abandoning the essential core courses that are the backbone of an anthropology program over purely "practical" courses suited to CRM. Instead, a CRM track would require successful completion of a specific number of courses, beyond the core classes, that were designed with a CRM career in mind. Exactly how these are put together and structured will vary, but essential topics include legislation and official guidelines, ethics, CRM field strategies, resource evaluation (i.e., application of National Register criteria), proposal writing, personnel management, and business practices. A final requirement would be completion of a CRM research project in lieu of the usual thesis. Ideally, the student would complete a small project from beginning to end, under the mentorship of a qualified research staffer, with an acceptable proposal, budget, research design, and technical report as the final products.

Currently the programs of this kind that exist or are under development are designed to train M.A. level students; completion of an M.A. is the minimum training required to satisfy principal investigator or other senior positions. Increasingly, however, Ph.D. credentials are in demand and it may be advantageous to offer a CRM option in the context of these programs. CRM course evaluations and informal polls of students both reveal that interest in this alternative runs high, and on more than one occasion we have been told that the CRM course was the most useful they had taken. An official poll of students nationwide might provide some hard numbers that will aid decision-making.

Whether CRM as we know it will be significantly changed by the "downsizing" in federal government remains to be seen. The successful evasion of budget cuts thus far is encouraging, and is some indication of the acceptance of our role. Regardless, it is unlikely that cultural resource management will be eliminated altogether, and as long as it represents a viable career option, a need for training will exist. Consequently, it is the responsibility of academic institutions to design programs consistent with a real life job market by offering a CRM option along with traditional academic training.

I will close with an appeal for information from institutions that have formalized CRM training programs. Depending on the response, I will gladly follow up with a review of their common elements as a means of sharing successful ideas.

Dennis B. Blanton is codirector of the Center for Archaeological Research at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The thoughts expressed here are his alone, but he wishes to acknowledge the benefit of discussions with Donald W. Linebaugh, the other codirector at WMCAR, as well as other staff members.

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