Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Academic Conferences: No change here, go about your business

I've been thinking about Rebecca's post for the past two weeks, the one titled What Trump means for academic conferences.  Now that the semester is over, and homework is off my plate (for another 35 days) it's time to commit some thoughts to (e)paper.  I'll say first that the whole travel advisory cited would carry more weight if it weren't coming from Turkey. There are things happening politically in that country that have nothing to do with Trump being elected (well, as of this writing there are 14 more days until the electoral college votes, so who knows...)

In any case, I would say that academic conferences, both those hosted in the USA, and those hosted elsewhere, are a venue for the academic elite, and in some cases those who are lucky enough to have a conference happening locally that they can either crash or find some other free means to attend. I don't think organizers will see the USA as a second tier place to host conferences.  Even if they did, for the sake of argument, move to Canada for the time being, the net result is the same: conferences are still geared toward the academic elite who can:

  • afford to pay conference registration fees
    • AAAL would cost me $325 to register.  The OLC Innovate conference in 2016 was around $700. The NMC summer conference is about $650.
  • afford to pay for travel 
    • for instance the AAAL conference in Portland Oregon would cost me around $500 if I were to attend. Orlando (OLC) is a little cheaper by comparison at $280. 
  • afford to pay for hotels while there
    • same conference would cost me about $1200 to stay at the conference hotel. Cheapest price I found elsewhere was $800 but I didn't map the distance from the conference venue, so let's call it a $400 convenience tax.
  • afford to take the time "off"
    • If you are on the tenure track, and expected to do these things, then you have much more flexibility to attend.  If you are an adjunct (and increasingly many in academia seem to be), or if you are like me - a professional but not full time in the teaching game - you need to use personal or vacation time to do this. If you work for a cool department, they might count it as a "work day" and it won't cost you vacation time, but not everyone has that luxury.

Even with the cheapest conference, the total cost for me would be around $2000 for a 3 day conference (more if there were plenaries I wanted to attend) plus whatever time off work I was charged.  While this might not be a lot of money to some, I tend to think of people who can attend a conference outside of their home turf as the academic elite. Having a new president of the USA won't change that, or make it more difficult for people internationally to come and present and meet with colleagues. 

Conferences were, and continue to be, a place where people with (at least some) privilege meet in person to do whatever it is they do.  As discussed in a virtually connecting session not too long ago (I forget which one) conferences need to evolve. Maybe the fear of a new presidency in the US will spur innovation in this arena. Maybe it won't. I think that we can't expect conference organizers (especially for long held conferences) to change their beat alone.  We (potential attendees) need to change the scene either with them, or without them.

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