New Mexico in 1917 had become one of the first states in the U.S. to license land surveyors, but by 1930 it was still one of twenty-one not regulating the practice of engineers. The new president of the University of New Mexico, James F. Zimmerman, in his effort to transform UNM into a major university, placed a high priority on the establishment of an accredited engineering college. To help him achieve that goal he turned to Professor Dorroh at the University of Mississippi.
John Hazard Dorroh was born in Madison, Mississippi on April 29, 1878. He attended Millsaps College and graduated in 1903 from Vanderbilt University with the degree of Bachelor of Engineering. In 1905 he joined the faculty of the University of Mississippi where from 1915 until 1930 he was Dean of the School of Engineering. That year political troubles at ‘Ole Miss’ caused him to leave and he accepted the position of Professor and Head of the Civil Engineering Department at UNM.
Those who knew Professor Dorroh said that he had a terrific sense of feeling in regard to ethics and professionalism. In New Mexico he became the driving force in getting a registration law enacted. The law entitled: An act to regulate the practices of professional engineering and land surveying was passed by the State Legislature and became effective May 22, 1935. For his efforts to secure passage of the legislation Professor Dorroh was honored by being awarded registration certificate No. 1, a detail that he frequently related with considerable pride.
The Act abolished the old Board of Examining Surveyors and created a Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors consisting of five members: three professional engineers, one land surveyor, and the State Engineer. Professor Dorroh became its first chairman, an office he held until August 20, 1942.
In its first year of operation (until June 30, 1936) the new Board granted 302 licenses, primarily under the grandfather clause. Most engineers were also licensed as surveyors but forty-nine licenses were granted for LS only. The first written examinations were given in Santa Fe on September 12, 1936, and of the two examinees, an engineer and a land surveyor, only the surveyor passed the test. Over the next ten years the Board licensed annually about thirty new professionals.
Professor Dorroh believed that: "The success or failure of our law … will be determined by the registered engineers and land surveyors themselves." Among other things this includes the policing of the profession. In response to a complaint, the year 1941 saw the first revocation of a license for incompetence. When in 1954 a license revocation was annulled in District Court, the Board appealed and the New Mexico Supreme Court on July 15, 1955 overturned the lower court and ruled unanimously in the Board’s favor.
In 1957 the legislature expanded the authority of the Board and also eliminated the requirement that one member of the Board must be the State Engineer. Land Surveyors could be registered by endorsement and licenses suspended for up to one year. By 1971 several western states had adopted more stringent license requirements and ceased to recognize New Mexico’s land surveyor registration as equivalent to their own. The Board reacted by bringing it’s requirements in line with its neighbors, adopting a sixteen-hour examination where three out of the four parts are furnished by the National Council of Engineering Examiners. The Engineering Practice Act was amended again by the 1977 legislature to provide for the addition of three land surveyor members to the Board, thereby increasing it from five to eight members. In 1979 a public member was added. After another change in 1993 the Board now consists of five professional engineers, three professional surveyors, and two public members.
Professor Dorroh retired from UNM in 1943 and returned to Mississippi where he died in Gulfport on May 1, 1961. At the date of this writing (October 1999) a total of 14,633 Professional Engineers and/or Professional Surveyors have been licensed to practice in New Mexico, all of them – After Dorroh.