Sunday, April 4, 2010

Conference season begins

April in my world is full of conferences and all kinds of exciting deadlines for publishing and presenting opportunities. As my conference season begins I am left with the scars of funding concerns in higher education. Many institutions, mine included, have been heavily hit by state funding shortages and one solution which many seem to adopt is limiting (or removing) funding opportunities for faculty travel to conferences. This is especially difficult for those of us who represent the only member of our discipline in an institution--conferences provide a much-needed exposure to scholars in our field, pedagogical advancements, and networking for future endeavors. I wonder, as we look at service-- including service within our associations as well as the continual look at how faculty members are rewarded (tenure requirements and more), will this lack of financial support result in a change in the way faculty are reviewed and rewarded? Or are many of us dipping deeper into our pockets to continue to attend conferences? This is especially concerning at some institutions which require conference service and presentation of research for the tenure process.

Last year the Chronicle reported "The recession is having a big impact, with attendance down at many academic and professional meetings, and next year is expected to be even worse." (J.R. Young, March 29, 2009 Economic downturn limits conference travel). There are institutions which have struck any funding for conferences, those which limit to one national conference a year, and those which have instituted application procedures for funding--but as the financial cuts continue where will it leave the academic conference in the landscape of higher education?

As I spoke about this with a colleague he noted that there are those who will always be able to travel and he felt those most impacted were junior faculty members and graduate students who are working to build their CVs and feel it necessary to travel. I personally dealt with this dilemma: The deadline for submission to a national association was in February and I took one look at the West Coast location and groaned. I priced a flight, hotel, and when the estimated cost hit $1200, I called others in my field to talk about what fallout could exist if I opted not to attend or present. It was a very difficult decision, but I decided to not attend. I've told myself I will focus on publishing and will attend next year when it will be in my state, but the nagging concern won't leave and each update on the looming conference brings a wave of concern.

I suppose higher education will continually adapt during these tight times and wonder what the changes will mean for both associations and for tenure review/faculty development. Until I know, I will attend my regional conferences and commit to service with these associations to continue to build my CV, contribute to my discipline, and operate under the assumption that a lack of funding for travel will not mean lessened scrutiny when the tenure review takes place.

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