Over the past month, approximately 30,000 people graduated from law school and immediately began studying for the bar exam. They will start work well before they are officially licensed, and yet their job title (“Associate”) is not dependent on their license. Instead, until they receive their law license and are physically sworn in to the bar, they simply include a disclaimer on their emails and business cards. There is no attorney-in-training titling debate. The same is the case with doctors, 18,000 of which finished medical school this spring and embarked upon their residencies and eventual board exams.
Although its own annual meeting will take place in New Orleans from June 17-20, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) used last month’s AIA Convention in Atlanta to make an announcement on what it called “The Great ‘Intern’ Title Debate.” Specifically, NCARB announced that it will cease use of the universally disfavored word “intern.” To quote NCARB’s press release: “The new term? There isn’t one. Just don’t use ‘intern.’”
So what is a non-intern to do? And what are firms to do?
NCARB emphasizes that this is a state-by-state issue, as in truth all licensure decisions are. So the answer is similar to how the timing of the ARE was changed to allow access immediately after graduation for most architects today. The ARE policy change was led by individual states, encouraged by advocacy from interns and local professionals.
As NCARB’s press release noted, there are 30 states that expressly refer to some form of “intern” or “intern architect” or “architectural intern.” Others, such as Section 43-4-10(a) of the Georgia Code, generally restrict the use of “any word, letter, figure, or any other device indicating or intending to imply that he or she is an architect unless he or she holds a current registration as an architect in this state.”
To be sure, the purpose of these restrictions is to ensure that members of the public are not deceived or confused. These restrictions also apply to architects traveling from out of state. Of course, out-of-state architects don’t use a new title to refer to themselves when traveling; rather they take care to ensure they are not confusing or deceiving the public about their licensure status—even as they continue to use the title architect.
This titling debate may sound wearying and irrelevant. It also may sound familiar. It turns out that another NCARB-led task force already addressed the titling issue nearly a decade and a half ago. In 2001, a collaborative body of architecture’s professional organizations, chaired by NCARB, studied the issue for two years and decided that the proper title for professional degree graduates was, in fact, “architect.” This group recommended other changes to precede this change in title, virtually all of those other changes have come to pass in some form in the intervening years.
In the end, both the 2015 and the 2001 NCARB task forces made important conclusions. First, “intern” is outdated and demeans the profession as a whole. Second, the title “architect” can and should be used in ways that avoid public confusion in a business context. Recent graduates pursuing licensure should use this title, with appropriate caveats in professional settings, just as their peers in law and medicine do. Rather than a bright-line rule prohibiting any use of the profession’s name under any circumstances, there is instead space for professional judgment. This use projects strength and confidence about both the individual and the profession.
Regardless of your personal feelings about titling, one thing is clear from NCARB's announcement: This is a local debate. It’s a debate to be had at state licensing boards, among local AIA components, and within individual firms. NCARB has opened the door. In their own words, “Let’s Go Further.”
John Cary is an (unlicensed) architect based in Oakland, Calif. Casius Pealer is an attorney and an (unlicensed) architect based in New Orleans. From 1999-2006, under the auspices of ArchVoices, they advocated on behalf of underrepresented practitioners formerly known as interns. Their views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.