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SE Exam Evaluation by BORPELS

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According to Mark Oakford's post from WA, Washington State (and CA) may
adopt the NCEES SE Exam. The same view has been current among SEAOC
officialdom. And there are indeed clear signs that the heretofore
co-operative SE Exam used by these two states no longer will be delegated to
an obscure committee of SEAOC and SEAW members under minimal control by
their respective state Boards of Registration. But reports of the demise of
an independent, non-NCEES SE Exam, for CA at least, appear greatly
exaggerated. Yet major changes of unpredictable extent appear likely.   

The California Board ofRegistration recently set up a four-member
Subcommittee on the SE Exam, which first met at 4:10pm on Oct.1st in San
Diego. Nominally there is need to respond to a lingering question from the
legislature as to why a special SE Exam is still used. So this subcommittee
is charged with tasks that include, but are not limited to, evaluating use
of the NCEES pair of SE Exams and evaluating use of a prospective
seismic-specific exam to replace the existing, more comprehensive 16-hour SE
Exam. However it appeared to this observer at that meeting that the entire
status and positioning of the Structural Engineer title with respect to the
rest of the PE registration scheme is open to question and alteration.
Remember that there is a PE Act rewrite bill in the legislature that awakens
in January, hungry for more input.  

Subcommittee chair Myrna Powell, a public member of the Board, emphasized that  
no limits were placed on their scope of inquiry, nor were they set up to
endorse any pre-made outcomes. But she stated very positively that security
of the exam will require all of the problem writing to be done in one single
location and in one continuous session. She added that problem writers and
graders in the future will be recruited by Board staff, not by SEAOC, and
she wants setting of cut-off scores to be done by "all-new people."  After
the meeting she told me privately that "one absolutely 'must' action we are
going to do is reclaim control of the exam from SEAOC." 

The other subcommittee members are Hoi Wong, the structural engineer Board
member; Ted Fairfield, the civil engineer member; and Steve Lazarian, public
member. The latter two are past Board presidents and the two most persuasive
and influential members of the Board. Only when those two disagree with each
other is an outcome in doubt. Fairfield moreover is clearly "Mr CELSOC"; all
of the Board's professional members but Wong are believed to be members of
CELSOC, the Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California (formerly
Cal Council of Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors.) And not unexpectedly, Mr
Fairfield had the most to say. 

Lots of this opening meeting went to discussing the prospects of joining
with NCEES to either use their existing structural exams or to collaborate
on a new range of exams regionally tailored to wind, snow, or seismic
environments. It was very clear that not one subcommittee member wanted to
dilute their own control of the CA SE Exam by sharing it with NCEES, nor did
they think much of the chances of working amicably with NCEES on a
structural exam, given the long history of mutual disdain over one another's
SE Exams.

Ted Fairfield's comments consistently pulled toward finding all the
positives in the existing CA/WA SE exam, not so much in technical content
per se, but "how well is it doing what it's supposed to be doing?" etc. He
was working Myrna Powell away from her position in a steady and gentle but
purposeful way, toward a destination that he didn't reveal. In contrast, Mr
Lazarian seemed to be free of maneuvers and tried to keep the focus on
discovering the facts before judging the alternatives. Hoi Wong ably
represented the well-known positions of the structural engineer community,
but I got the feeling that such positions were regarded by the others as the
usual "party line" and insufficient to settle anything beyond
re-establishing that the existing NCEES SE Exams weren't attractive. 

Given this scenario, and he known high cost of home-grown SE Exams, I
wouldn't wonder why Washington's Board would look to NCEES as a fall-back
while the Calif. Board shakes things out.

Additional meetings of this SE Exam subcommittee are to happen in early
December and late January. SEAOC was represented at the October meeting by
Ted Canon, and my notes and oral report were given to SEAOC President Ken
Luttrell on Oct 7.

Two concerns I still have are, can the SE community's perspective expand
beyond the usual pat pronouncements, and what is Ted Fairfield angling for?
His affiliation is with the CE's who have historically been rivals of the
SE's in  turf and prestige matters. His group is the one at interminable war
with PE's in Calif Govt over who gets to design state public works, now
escalated into high-stakes lawsuits and a draconian ballot initiative. It
would be out of character that there's no advantage being sought from the
structurals in this SE Exam evaluation.

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE,  Sacramento CA