Tuesday, September 09, 2014



The Chronicle got one right.  It outlined yesterday some discontent among sociologists at the cost of attending the American Sociological Association annual conference.  If you don’t live in or near the host city, the combination of registration, airfare, hotel, and food can easy run over two thousand dollars for a single conference.  And the ASA isn’t unique in that.  If anything, it’s fairly typical.  

If you’re independently wealthy, or extremely well paid, or you happen to work in a setting with ample travel budgets, then the cost doesn’t matter much.  But if you’re like the vast majority of working academics, the cost is severe.  Many institutions have relatively meager travel allowances, if any at all, and travel is usually the first thing to cut when budgets are tight.

The cost functions as a filter, screening out the non-elites and ensuring a deeply skewed representation of the discipline.  The questions that get attention are the ones considered important by the people who work in large departments and who have the luxury of specializing.  The folks who teach slates of intro courses year after year struggle to attend, and often, don’t.  Their questions go unasked, or get answered for them by people who don’t face the same institutional realities they do.

But it’s a difficult problem to fix.

In the short term, travel is a reasonable target for cuts.  In most community college settings, full-time faculty do not have a publication requirement for tenure or promotion.  (That’s why I get twitchy whenever I read that the path to acceptance of digital humanities, or OER, or whatever, involves tweaking tenure processes to give as many points for them as for traditional research.  We don’t give points for traditional research.  The suggestion carries with it an assumed institutional background that erases my own.)  Most of the budget is labor, which means that most budget cuts would require firing (or not replacing) people.  

Conference travel isn’t like that.  The short-term cost of cutting it is diffuse.  And grants are often more likely to fund travel than they are to fund, say, instruction, which means that it’s easier to make up cuts to travel than cuts to instruction.

Still, something real is lost -- to the faculty, the college, and the discipline -- when faculty are kept away from broader discussions for too long.  

I’ll offer a few suggestions, and then look to my wise and worldly readers for more.

The simplest, and least difficult, change would be for conferences to DROP THE CHARADE OF THE LAST HALF DAY.  That last half day requires another entire night of hotel stay, and rarely accomplishes much of anything.  Panels are lightly attended, because people are catching flights.  The net cost of the last half day far outweighs any real gain from it.  Reducing the length of the conference by a night/day would reduce the rental cost for the association (and therefore the registration fees for attendees), and the room charges for the attendees.  This should be a no-brainer.

Making regional conferences more relevant could also help.  Perhaps scheduling all of them on the same two or three days, with live video hookups among them, could get around some of the issues of provincialism.  Getting Twitter cross-chat among the regions could make for some lively discussion, and the infrastructure is already there.  It would probably involve having the national organization take a more directive role relative to the regional ones, but that strikes me as solvable.

Philanthropy could also play a more intentional role here.  If academic conference travel matters as much as some of us think it does, we should make the case to prospective donors.  Donors who want, say, community college faculty to be able to keep up with their fields could make significant differences relatively cheaply.  

Or, we could just keep booking three hundred dollar a night hotels in expensive cities, and lamenting the nearly complete absence of the folks who work at teaching institutions.

Wise and worldly readers, short of a visit from the money fairy, is there a better way to handle conference travel?

Have each well-off university prof bring along someone from a CC as a guest?

But more seriously, I am only posting to tell you that The Replacements are on Fallon tonight (and Keith Richards is a guest for us old folks). Catch it on demand with breakfast or the Tubes.
I'm at an R1 university, so my experience may not be of much help to you. Here almost all travel is paid for out of research grants, which mean that STEM faculty travel a lot, and humanities faculty very little (either on their own dime or as invited guests). There is a small amount of travel funds available from campus funds, comparable to what a community college might have—it funds an insignificant portion of the travel.

I've pretty much given up on going to conferences—their expense in time and money far exceeded their value. (I think that the last one I went to was 3 or 4 years ago.)

The last day of a conference is a half day no matter how you schedule it—people leave mid-day to catch flights home to avoid staying another night. If you schedule a full last day, the second half has only about 20% attendance. By your reasoning, that means that the last day should be cut to a half day, which is then eliminated, and so on, until the entire conference is gone.

Arguing for cheaper venues reachable by low-cost flights is a more achievable target—one that will resonate even with the more richly funded organizers.

Better regional conferences is also theoretically achievable. Even better is for colleges to put on their own conferences—some of the best conferences I've been to have been summer conferences with dorm rooms for housing. The cost is usually about 1/3 of commercial venues.

Community colleges are at a disadvantage for creating such conferences, though, as few have dorm facilities that can be used for summer conferences.

When I read "acts as a screen" I read "intentional." Is this a problem that wants to be fixed? It doesn't sound that hard.
I recently went to a conference that started a virtual conference as a component. All presenters who consented had their presentations recorded and posted online. All you need is a twitter handle, an online forum, or community board, to have some discussion about relevant topics. Then you'll have a close-to-real conference without the travel expense.

I tend to dislike live video hookups because they are plagued with technical difficulties (through no fault of any IT personnel; I've done volunteer A/V work and experienced a lot of these inexplicable difficulties). Being able to watch and rewind video at your own rate and leisure gives you more freedom to explore as a listener and offers more flexibility for timing when you want to watch a seminar.

If you post the presentation online, and allow twitter/forum discussion for, say, the next day or two, then that would encourage presenters to be present and part of the discussion. Then you'd get to see presentations, comment and ask questions, all while being at your home office.

All this is not as good as being at the conference in person, but may capture much of the value of a conference while spending little to no money.
Part of the problem, of course, is that convention venues that can handle thousands of people at a time (as is the case for the major disciplinary conferences- AHA, MLA, APSA, etc) are in major cities in downtown locations, which exponentially increases costs. Have you ever looked at a BEO for a major conference? It's wild - and academics don't usually have seasoned event planners who can negotiate well OR you get left with the more "affordable" (still relative) weeks that are inevitably near major holidays and otherwise inconvenient for people.

Smaller cities where meeting and event space may be more reasonably priced suffer different problems - they are often harder to get to and though the lodging cost may go down, the number of attendees and the available meeting space is more limited.

So, it's important to not forget about the structural constraints as well. It doesn't solve the money problem, but it does help explain why things are the way they are.

But there are often ways to make conference travel cheaper - I've often stayed at a non-conference venue, and even as not-a-grad student, I've split a hotel room with a colleague. I throw oatmeal and granola bars in my bag, so I usually only end up eating out at dinner time, or over a planned lunch meeting. And I put it in my yearly budget--and save receipts and such for tax purposes.

Last year, I saved a bunch of money by presenting and registering with the smaller affiliated conference in a specialized field that was holding its meeting concurrent to the AHA. The only thing I didn't have access to was the book exhibit (I borrowed a name badge one afternoon . . .so sue me) and the job center (thank god I had no need for it). Otherwise, I got what I needed out of the conference, could go to AHA panels and such, but my hotel costs and registration costs were markedly lower.

Finally, I've found that the most useful conferences tend to be smaller, more specialized ones. I'm skeptical that many people get anythign of real value out of the mega conferences. If I could only choose one conference a year, i go to the annual meeting in my field - usually around 600 people and in a pretty affordable city.
Hmmm... airbnb for academia?
I've seen a simple software tool (I think it is called something like collaborate) that syncs ppt slides with audio, so it limits bandwidth needed compared to true video.

I went to a conference at a university where we stayed in dorms and ate in a pretty good cafeteria. Extremely economical and no distractions from the meeting. Limited to a modest group of a hundred or two, however.

Finally, here is a link to The Replacements on the Tubes, in case you haven't seen it yet:
Dorms and active recruitment of local academics to host visitors?

I know from experience that travel is astonishingly cheap when you don't have to eat at restaurants and you don't have to pay (much) for accommodation.

"Kemaluan keluar cairan nanah atau terkadang putih dan sebagian juga keluar darah.Lubang Penis Mengeluarkan Nanah
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