THE MANY FACES OF CRM
Changing Career Paths and the Training of Professional Archaeologists: Observations from the Barnard College Forum
Nowhere was the disjunction between academic and private/public sector archaeology more keenly apparent than in the latter's responses of high dissatisfaction with their academic preparation for their current careers, and the discrepancy between their career expectations and their actual careers...
M. Zeder in The American Archaeologist: Results of the 1994 SAA Census, SAA Bulletin 15(4)
Melinda Zeder's article in the SAA Bulletin underscores the often divergent trends in contemporary archaeological training and practice. A recent forum on this theme was organized for October 1997 by the Professional Archaeologists of New York City (PANYC) as a sounding board to sample the range of opinion from varied segments of the archaeological community on the issue of graduate education and professional employment. This is the first in a two-part article summarizing the results of the forum and polling contemporary thinking about the direction of archaeological training at the dawn of the new millennium.
The focus of the session was the disjuncture between expanding career niches in cultural resources management (CRM) and shrinking opportunities in more traditional academic tracks. The greater New York area was an appropriate locale for the forum, since it is a microcosm, perhaps even a harbinger, of national trends. New York is a major center for all sectors in archaeology: academic research (Old and New World); public education and museum venues; government compliance archaeology (federal, state, and especially municipal); and for private-sector opportunities (preservation and heritage management).
The forum took nearly a year to plan and involved the collective efforts of PANYC committee members representing each sector. Invitations were extended by post and electronic mail to institutions, organizations, and individuals in the metropolitan archaeological community. An overarching objective of the forum was to sample student sentiment and response to the changing employment picture at a time when formal graduate training has become more costly, time consuming, and demanding than at any time since the emergence of the traditional four-field curriculum. A measure of the compelling nature of the forum was that it was attended by 50 archaeologists, approximately half of whom were students.
The program was divided into two segments: a formal session with invited speakers and an open floor discussion affording participants the opportunity to question speakers and to air particular concerns. The balance of Part I of this article summarizes the issues articulated by the speakers in the formal presentation. Part II will address the themes that emerged from the open discussion. Not surprisingly, passionate and often unanticipated responses were registered from all quarters of the archaeological community, converging on several core themes that, irrespective of individual or collective attitudes, appear to be paramount in fashioning longer term discourse. These are currently being synthesized by PANYC's steering committee in a position statement to conclude Part II.
Anne-Marie Cantwell's opening remarks set the tone for the forum emphasizing
that since preservation concerns and the law are the main forces currently
driving the archaeological profession, educators must ask themselves if
traditional training is adequate to meet the needs of those students filling
newly created jobs. What will the new generation of archaeologists need to
know? Are we concerned that students not only be equipped to fill positions but
that they remain true to the stewardship of the resources under their charge?
Rothschild underscored the significance of the information explosion as a double-edged sword; on the one hand, the expansion in archaeological knowledge opens up new vistas in data collection, analysis, and interpretation, while, on the other, tight university budgets are shifting the onus of teaching increasing amounts of material to fewer faculty. Given the need to train students for "real world" issues, the challenge to university professors grows progressively more daunting. Her solution to the "overload" in the academic system is to encourage students to pursue their own interests and to integrate these with formal principles in method and theory acquired in the classroom. She noted that this track is being followed by most North American archaeologists who buttress their training with summer work in contract settings and/or more formal internship programs. She also identified the need for occasional formal instruction in CRM by practitioners.
David Bernstein offered insights into the fast-fading world of CRM programs housed under the university umbrella. Paradoxically, while no formal CRM courses are currently offered at his institution, most graduate students will end up in CRM irrespective of initial regional or methodological specialization. He bemoaned the fact that since most practitioners will probably begin their careers outside their chosen expertise, their initial work attitudes would be--wittingly or unwittingly--partially negative. It is therefore imperative that university departments be candid with entering students about career expectations and options. Bernstein sees a general decline in the future of university-based CRM programs with the exception of the western states. On the immediate horizon, the greatest opportunities for CRM growth are in the international arena. Training programs must stress the paramount role of writing--doing it rapidly and well--as the main tool for success in either CRM or academic spheres. Further, the demise of the university field school leaves students without the basic empirical and adaptive skills to work as archaeologists in challenging settings. Universities will not add "CRM specialists" to faculty, because of financial constraints, and he proposes that larger CRM firms network to fund training programs and faculty lines. "On-the-job" training appears to be the most immediate solution to bridging the gap between CRM employment and the conclusion of academic training.
The Government Window
Louise Basa reflected on the unique transition between academia to the workaday
world of government archaeology. Her experiences span the past 25 years, a
period when the regulatory environment was actively evolving. The pace of
change has been dynamic, but the anthropological perspective on cross-cultural
exchange facilitated communication between a "wet-behind-the-ears academic" and
the government bureaucrats who had no idea how their duties would be
transformed as a result of environmental and preservation laws of the late
1960s and 1970s. Basa argued for maintenance of the four-field approach
tempered with a healthy influx of empirically relevant courses. This will
ensure that contemporary practitioners can tackle delicate planning issues
armed with a working familiarity of the compliance process as well as a
grounding in well-formulated research designs.
Klein also highlighted the changing business climate in CRM, echoing Bernstein's observation that international CRM may emerge as the main growth sector for the industry. Klein concluded with an examination of the emerging employment hierarchy in the CRM world, noting its advantages and pitfalls. There are three nested employment levels ranging from archaeological technician, to field director/principal investigator, and project manager. Archaeological technician is the most transient position, although recent unionization threatens to limit mobility and access to new graduate students. Ironically, the field director slot may be most palatable to younger Ph.D.s because it still affords direct research contact and publication and research opportunities. The highest rung, project manager, necessitates increasing distance from the research front, since the position entails more managerial and marketing responsibilities. The transition to "Archaeology as Big Business" is a lesson that must be imparted to graduate students even if they proceed to academic careers.
Joseph Schuldenrein's presentation placed the emergence of CRM archaeology in historic perspective. He demonstrated that demographics and economics accounted for the emergence of archaeology as a profession. The late 19th- and early 20th-century archaeological pioneers were rich, leisure-class white men (Carter, Flinders-Petrie, Wooley, Putnam, Mercer) and women (Kenyon, Caton- Thompson, Garrod) who pursued an antiquarian interest. Between the 1920s and 1960s emergence of the middle class and the postwar boom in the United States created an equilibrium in the university and government sector, wherein those few individuals disposed to archaeology could be accommodated by a wealthy and expanding economy. This period peaked in the 1960s and 1970s (Vietnam war era) as the early baby boomers pursued "sexy" topics in paleoanthropology, Mesoamerican studies, and origins of agriculture. Academic departments and funding agencies financed these ventures, prolifically at first, but by the late 1970s this brief surge came crashing down. Once well-funded programs dried up and the onset of the depressed financial cycle had serious ramifications on research and university training programs. The only subsequent boost to archaeological work was the tandem emergence of the environmental and preservation movements. However, the financial fortunes of university programs have remained in relatively steady decline, thus creating a crisis in traditional university employment. Courses, programs, and, most significantly, career choices are being offered by tenured faculty who were weaned, trained, and matured in the boom years; their trainees are students who are coming of age in an archaeological environment light years removed from that of their mentors. Schuldenrein argued that with CRM driving 85 percent of the domestic funds designated for archaeology, the industry must play a more active role in revising university curricula. Empirical skills--including high technology, sophisticated sampling, heritage preservation, and public education--should work their way into comprehensive archaeological programs. He emphasized that the sophistication of the CRM profession is such that on-the-job training is no longer practicable for freshly minted Ph.D.s beginning their careers on a CRM track. Recent informal surveys have shown that well-structured internship venues may be the most palatable solution for university and CRM programmers alike.
Chad Gifford, a specialist in South American archaeology who has never been involved with CRM, offered his perspective. He has completed a traditional education, recognizing the uncertainties of an academic future. In support of the tenuous position of contemporary graduate students, Gifford cited examples of three freshly minted, relatively well-published New World colleagues, all of whom were doggedly holding out for academic positions and biding their time in non-CRM environments. Despite his recognition of the changing employment landscape, Gifford took issue with the forum's prevailing undercurrent that "graduate training in archaeology today is not as relevant as it should be." He contended that a less academic training would render him even less qualified to pursue his ideal job. To accommodate CRM concerns, Gifford proposes terminal M.A. programs. Should contemporary employment trends continue, he suggests a CRM component would eventually be forced into Ph.D. curricula. Given his purely academic credentials, Gifford wondered how qualified he would be for a CRM position, although he thought that with some training he could function in that context. Gifford remains a stalwart holdout for an academic track position.
The divergence in student attitudes was surprising to some of the seasoned
speakers, although the significance of the crisis in employment was recognized
by all. The responses elicited by the presenters produced an array of opinions,
limited consensus, and heated debate. Details of the ensuing discussion and
recommendations for future action will be presented in Part II in the next
Joseph Schuldenrein is president of Geoarcheology Research Associates, a CRM firm based in New York. He is also a visiting scholar at New York University.