Annual Meetings as a Regressive Tax

Just to follow up on the last two postings about the tenuous position of adjuncts, I think it is worth asking if there isn’t another way that our discipline contributes to the pauperization of the untenured: the annual AAA meetings.

A quick look at the AAA budget (on page 15 of the 2011 annual report) shows the AAA’s big sources of revenue are: publications, which is more or run at cost (i.e. contributes to the pauperization of libraries and tax-payers), membership dues, and the annual meeting. 

That’s right — the annual meetings make the association $628,328 a year, as near as I can tell.

Who goes to these meetings? Well, lots of people. But who has to go? Job applicants and people trying to build a CV — exactly the people who can’t afford to go.

$628,328 is a little more than it costs to keep the sections of the association running. It’s sobering to think that adjuncts and graduate students are not just doing the lion’s share of teaching in our universities, they are bankrolling their prof’s academic institutions as well.

Of course the real expense of attending the AAAs, the things that really hurts people’s budgets, don’t go into AAA coffers. They are the travel costs: plane fare, hotel room. This isn’t money that the AAAs get, but the cost is very real to the under- and un-employed.

Now yes, of course, not all of that half-million dollar is paid by adjuncts, many professors attend the AAAs, and the AAA has progressive rates for conference and membership fees. Still, I would be interested to see how the numbers break down: how much of the million-plus that the AAA grosses from the conference comes from tenured professors, and how much comes from the untenured? How many job seekers come to the meetings compared to those who already have jobs? I am sure the AAA could pull this data out of their records.

Perhaps I am wrong — I certainly hope I am. But as far as I can tell, our annual conference is a regressive tax on some of the most financially vulnerable members of our discipline.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

40 thoughts on “Annual Meetings as a Regressive Tax

  1. That is a good question, Alex, who *has* to go to AAA (or ASA, or EASA) meetings?

    I agree that such meetings have become a must-do for job applicants and early career academics. But there are other people, and other reasons, for feeling the need to attend such meetings.

    I write for myself here but I think my reasons may be shared by others. Having only moved to Spain three years ago from a 15yr career in the UK, one of the reasons for my attending such meetings is keeping in touch with UK friends and colleagues. A big conference such as AAA’s annual meeting makes things easy in this respect for I can kill plenty of birds with one stone.

    Another reason for us ‘world anthropologists’ to attend AAA’s annual meeting is to get our periodical dose/exposure to Anglo-American anthropology. We get a sense of what people are doing, what is trendy, what is definitely not trendy any more, books to buy, books to read, new publishers, new journals, etc. Some may attend in order to have direct contact with publishers. (I could go on and on about the ‘exoticness’ of the American publishing industry for the great majority of world anthropologists who did not graduate from Duke, Harvard, Berkeley or Chicago. But I think I will leave it for some other time.)

    Also, some anthropologists from outside the US (myself included) take AAA meetings as opportunities to do some ‘academic tourism’. If I am going to spend all my annual travel allowance (plus savings of my own) in flying out to San Franscisco, I might as well try to make some extra time to visit the city and its surroundings, no matter how excited am certainly are about the latest takes on Occupy theory.

    So those are some of the reasons I have for attending AAA meetings. Of course some years I have no reasons to attend at all – the previous year’s meeting having exceeded all my expectations. When that happens, I simply let my AAA subscription expire.

  2. Great post, Alex. I would add that – as Sarah Kendzior pointed out – the AAA seems more concerned with workers in host cities than its members. Of course, we should be concerned about working conditions in host cities. But there is no reason the AAAs have to support San Francisco’s economy rather than, say, Omaha’s economy. Omaha’s workers are probably even more vulnerable than San Francisco’s workers anyway. Cheaper for everyone.

    This is one of the reasons I have let my AAA membership lapse while continuing to pay dues to other academic organizations. I have left academia for a well-paying job. The dues are not too much. Rather, the organization simply does not serve its members. It and its members bloviate about neoliberalism and the demise of unions while ignoring their own members. I would love, as Alberto points out, to go to the AAA meetings in order to keep abreast of developments in anthropology. But the AAA’s hypocrisy is too much to take.

  3. “$628,328 is a little more than it costs to keep the sections of the association running. It’s sobering to think that adjuncts and graduate students are not just doing the lion’s share of teaching in our universities, they are bankrolling their prof’s academic institutions as well.”

    Just a small point: this isn’t just true of the AAA, it’s true of academia at large. Obviously quite a lot of funding comes in through donations from capital (mostly finance, at this point), but student tuition (and student bodies) are coming in under debt loads that pretty much ensure a life spent in repayment. My school is one of the top 10 most expensive liberal arts colleges in the country, and no matter how much anyone talks about neoliberalism and economic justice and so on, you will almost never hear a professor say a word about student loan debt—and, perhaps uncharitably, it’s hard not to suspect this is because their lives now depend on that system. I really can’t think of any other explanation for the professor colleague in Kenzior’s article vomiting up nonsense like “post-work imaginaries.”

    It’s hardly surprising that a similar pattern’s appeared with AAA meetings, but it’s important to remember the context, and I don’t think moving the AAA to Omaha wouldn’t really make much of a dent in that. I suspect completely open and free institutions like the Open Anthro Coop and Hau are much closer to finding real alternative possibilities.

  4. This is a great post. I would also add that there should be some transparency RE the salaries of the AAA staff in DC. I wonder how much Bill Davis makes and what, exactly, he does to earn this salary.

    Some sections have very reduced fees for students and retired anthropologists but this does not help with the registration fees for the meetings or the membership fees.

    The other gripe I have is that when you propose a session for the meetings you must register and become a member. If that session does not make it into the meetings, you have paid for nothing. This seems unfair.

  5. Information about the AAA finances is open, including staff salaries. These are actually published in Anthropology News once a year if you bother to look. When the 2004 AAA was moved at the last minute from San Francisco to Atlanta, many concerns about the association’s finances were scrutinized and questions were asked about how hotels are contracted, how much it costs to reserve a hotel for a convention (we pay a massive deposit a year in advance), why we have to meet in huge cities, etc. Well, for one thing there are no hotels in Omaha that are large enough to hold all the attendees at any AAA meeting. There are in fact only a few cities we can now go to because so many are on the “no” list, for good reasons (states with sodomy laws, for example). These are all issues that every AAA member votes on periodically, so the rules were made by the membership. One good thing that came about from that 2004 disaster is that more decisions are now in the hands of the sections. If anyone wants to make changes to the way the AAA is run, then you have to be willing to nominate yourself to be part of the leadership for one of the sections.

  6. One more point–between 5,000 to 6,000 people will be in San Francisco for the AAA annual meeting this year, and of those the majority will be full time academic faculty and applied anthropologists. Adjuncts are not “bankrolling” this or any other annual meeting.

  7. Hi Laura,

    “One more point–between 5,000 to 6,000 people will be in San Francisco for the AAA annual meeting this year, and of those the majority will be full time academic faculty and applied anthropologists.”

    What’s the percentage? Are you talking 51 percent or 95 percent?

    “Adjuncts are not “bankrolling” this or any other annual meeting.”

    Well, they are bankrolling (ie financing) their share of the annual meeting through the fees they pay. Their money counts.

    Now, the question is what percentage of the overall revenue comes from adjuncts, grad students, etc. The breakdown of attendance would be interesting to see (the percentage of full-time, adjunct, and student attendees). I would also like to see how many people pay the “retired” or “un/underemployed” discount rate of $181 bucks to attend, versus the number of people who pay full book ($218) or the student rate ($94). And of course the people who pay after the Sept 14 deadline and rate increase.

    Maybe I’ll look around and see what I can find.

  8. Hey Alex,

    Funny to think about it as a tax. Well, not funny in the humorous sense. My total tax to attend would be something like 789 dollars with a low-ball estimate.

    Membership dues: 85
    Conference fee: 94
    Flight: 450 (at best)
    Hotel: 50 per night (good luck) x two nights = 100
    Food: 20 per day x 3 days = 60

    TOTAL: $789

    Yikes.

  9. Yes it would be good to be more accurate in thinking about the AAA membership and the annual meeting. For example, the revenue from the annual meeting is not from registration fees alone.

  10. Ryan,
    I think you are optimistic about not only the cost of air flights. Also the cost of the hotel, and food in San Francisco. Plus you forget the cost of airport shuttle.

    For what it is worth, few (if any) of the recruitments I have been on at Chico State have been decided because of an interview at a meeting. Rather, it is through getting c.v.s via email (0r the post) that fits the job description without telling too many whoppers.

    Tony

  11. Hey Tony,

    Ya, I know it’s way under. It’s my super-lowball bare bones not gonna happen in real life estimate. The point being that even a ridiculously low estimate is still a serious chunk of change. When I went to the AAAs in SF in 2008 I had a room in the conference hotel for 250 dollars! And it was miniscule. Like so tiny the bathroom sink could not actually fit in the bathroom. I like SF, but it’s definitely not a cheap place to visit.

  12. “There are in fact only a few cities we can now go to because so many are on the “no” list, for good reasons (states with sodomy laws, for example). ”

    According to AAA website, only Arizona and Georgia are on the list of no meeting states. Even if we exclude convention centers/hotels for lack of labor unions, we can still include generally cheap cities such as St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis and Las Vegas which definitely do have the capacity to hold the AAA’s. Last year the American Sociological Association held their convention in Las Vegas and I believe that they have similar rules about labor unions.

    The same BS excuses are trotted out every time I’ve had this discussion either online or in person. If AAA leadership actually cared about grad students and/or professors who have had their travel budgets cut, they could easily put the convention in an inexpensive city.

  13. Forgot to mention: another factor is that some departments are pretty good at providing at least some travel funds. So that would be like a tax credit if we stick to the theme of the post. But these funds often get fairly well eaten up by either hotel costs or the flight to the conference city. Still, they help (when available).

  14. The AAA has all of this information and could pull it for you for sure. The staff are generally very helpful and take member concerns seriously, even when many members show them almost zero professional courtesy.

    The best way to get a better picture is to get involved. I know many of the questions being raised here are being taken seriously and there is a task force being put together on the issue of the meetings.

    Some of the choices have to do with space constraints of facilities. The meetings have grown substantially in the last years. Most members have stated their preference is for the meetings to be run out of one facility, rather than a group of spaces in an area.

    To be clear, as a grad student, I don’t find the meetings affordable. I also, have seen supporting funds from my home institution go from “guaranteed” 1800.00 per year to “up to” 1200.00 by application. Since the switch in policy I have gotten between 300-700 annually without having anyway to predict what will come. I am now waiting for the dice to be rolled on what they can dish out this year.

  15. Other organizations–the Association for Asian Studies, for one–offer travel assistance for graduate students. If you are on the official program and a grad student, you’d get a check at the meetings for somewhere in the $2-300 range to offset the cost of your attendance. No need to apply for it—it was automatic. If you didn’t have a bank nearby or were coming from outside the US, they would even give you cash. How much revenue would AAA lose by making graduate student registration free or deeply discounted?

    As for location, personally, I’d rather the AAA meetings be held in a place I would otherwise *like* to visit. If I am on a limited budget, getting the two-for of a AAA meeting and a mini-vacation is better than being stuck in a cheaper city. That said, last year having both AAA and AAS in Canada was a budget killer. (not that I think it would be cheaper but) I’d much rather pay to go to SF than Las Vegas.

    Lastly, building off what Ryan mentioned above— grad students, postdocs, and others w/o dedicated conference funding should be shaking down their departments, advisors, deans, and area-studies programs on campus for (even partial) subvention of AAA attendance. Often even when a position has nothing explicitly available, some legwork can pay off. I got about 75% of my costs of the Canadian conferences last year paid for despite not having a conference budget per se.

  16. Ok, this has been bothering me all day, so I will say it. National conventions in my experience are not that great of a way to find an academic job. I’ve been on something like 15 search commitees in 4 or 5 departments, and can think of only one case where the candidate was brought to campus because of a contact initiated at a national meeting (American Sociological Association in this case). Would the candidate have risen to the top anyway? Probably–she was indeed a good fit for what we were looking for, and is still at Chico State.

    National conferences have their place in the academic world, I guess. But I find the regionals much more manageable, and a better place to renew acquaintances. Much of the interaction is informal there–there are no rooms for academic meat markets. But I have seen examples where such contacts resulted in hiring for temporary lecturer positions, some of which eventually turned into t-t. Still it is not a golden bullet for finding a job. If anything is the golden bullet for a teaching university like Chico State, it is experience teaching your own class, and having a successful publication under your belt, not making a 10 minute presentation at the ASA or AAA. We are much more concerned that the new Assistant Professor be able to pull their teaching weight, rather than tell the rather tall-tale that their research is “ground breaking,” as too many letters from major profs claim.

    So are the meetings a tax a regressive tax on grad students? Perhaps. But they are also a bit of a con job, in my view, in the sense that the students are told that they are make or break activities for the job search. In my experience this is not true–the make or break activity is more likely to be teaching your own class. I get it that some people like conferences, and it gives them intellectual energy. Sometimes it does this for me too. But I still suspect it is a better use of your time to get out and teach a one-off class as an adjunct. Indeed, many of the committees I have been on very seriously consider the qualified people who have taught successfully at Chico State for promotion to tenure track. It does not always work in every department, but still it is not a bad strategy; our own adjuncts are known quantities, and if they have other necessary qualifications in terms of specialty and degrees, they are indeed considered seriously.

    BTW for networking, I think that regional conferences are a good way to make contact with chairs who do the hiring of adjuncts. For tenure track, though, it is also not a make or break thing…

    Anyway, that’s my two cents!

  17. Hello everyone. I have a few things to say about the national conference.

    First, Laura says that the majority of attendees are not graduate students or adjuncts. Like Ryan, I would like to see official statistics on this. But that said, her point is irrelevant. If adjuncts are a minority at this conference, they are still an exploited and mistreated minority, and the conference exacerbates their hardship. Her argument is akin to saying it’s fine for a minority to live on the streets because most people live in houses.

    Second, going to AAA is required when you are on the job market. I know a few adjuncts and graduate students who were invited to interview at AAA and told they had to be there or they would lose their interview. Others understand this as a tacit condition, and are so grateful to have any interview in this terrible market that they make enormous sacrifices to attend. Everyone is scrambling for an advantage. But in anthropology, the real advantage is financial.

    Third, some people receive funding for conference travel. But contingent faculty are not among them – even though they are both the most disadvantaged scholars and the scholars most likely to be on the job market. Conference participation (and job interviews) is determined by pre-existing wealth or by willingness to take on debt.

    The AAA conference discriminates against its most disadvantaged members — scholars made vulnerable not only by their financial status but by their inability to speak out, since doing so may cost them their careers. In dollars or in reputation, adjuncts pay the price.

  18. I do not have any such “argument,” Sarah. I absolutely think it is awful that the annual meetings are such an expensive burden, for everyone, but particularly for students and adjuncts. My point is indeed irrelevant to the exploitation that occurs, you are right. I simply wanted to correct the overblown and baseless statements about attendance and hotels. It’s best not to make assumptions about people’s stance and motives, that should be at least one free benefit from being an anthropologist.

  19. I’m glad you recognize that the current meeting practices are exploitative and that your point was irrelevant. But the only “overblown and baseless statements about attendance and hotels” I have seen here are yours, Laura. You asserted that “there are in fact only a few cities we can now go to” and were debunked by the AAA’s own website. You give no evidence for your claims about adjunct and graduate student attendance, and divorce those claims from the broader context of the argument.

  20. Sarah:
    I know that some people assert that an interview at the national convention is “required” for the academic job market. As I wrote above, I do not think in reality that is the case for most jobs, and in fact I think that it is a bit of a fraud to assert that this is the case.

    Most of the hiring decisions are made by committees, and by people who do not attend national conferences. I

    In addition, I can imagine a number of university “risk management” offices getting annoyed if applying at a meeting is indeed a requirement, as it should open the university to a lawsuit because of the lack of transparency in hiring requirements. The rule is that if a requirement is not in a job ad, it cannot be used in the recruitment. Period. Or, rather, potential lawsuit.

    Tony

  21. University hiring committees are usually strictly limited on the number of on-campus interviews they can conduct for a faculty position. Interviewing at a national conference enables them to meet many more candidates in person than would be possible otherwise. I have known many search chairs and department chairs who attended a AAA meeting only because they were interviewing candidates.

    Conference interviews matter much more for some areas of anthropology, and at some institutions, than others.

    For someone on the market for a few years and working as an adjunct, going to the AAA is a very hard call. Simply going to the meeting and doing in-person interviews is not enough. Conference interviews are a cattle call. The chair or committee likely have no authority to offer you anything until you come on campus, so your goal is to be short-listed.

    To do this, you need to act like you already have the job you’re trying to get.

    Presenting your research is not enough. You need to have organized a podium session with young professionals (not graduate students), have several meetings arranged with academic presses to discuss your book and what they would like to see in a proposal coming out of your session, and be talking to people about the session you’re organizing for next year and the position you are running for in the next election.

    There are no absolutes, but if you’re not doing many of those things, the conference probably isn’t a good investment of your money.

  22. By and large, I agree with John. One of the most important reasons for me to go to a conference is to approach the acquisitions editors of the publishing houses with a book proposal. They are some of the sharpest people around, and are willing to share their professional views about the future of the book market in the immediate future.

  23. Thanks to everyone for this discussion, especially Sarah. I’m finishing my Phd this year, and preparing as we speak to finalized my preparations to shell out the nearly $1000 (if I eat frugally!) that it will cost me to attend, even though I’m sharing a room with three other students and adjuncts. Depending on demand, I may eventually get departmental funding to cover up to half of this cost and I consider myself very fortunate. Still, I find myself asking, way too late, why am I even bothering? Does it really matter to anyone that I present at AAA year after year, or, as is more likely, did I just swallow that as a rule at some point early in my graduate career and never rethink it?

    One thing that would make it much more worthwhile would be if some of these discussions were going to be continued at the AAA meeting itself. Does anyone have any interest in organizing some meetings in the evenings to do this? An ad-hoc session on adjuncting perhaps? And might a representative from AAA prepare a presentation for attendees to answer some of the interesting and important questions raised here?

  24. Laura,

    Why don’t you whip up a quick post describing how the actual economics of the AAA conference works? It sounds like you know a lot about this, so it shouldn’t take you long. As you say, I have only done a very rough estimate. Instead of calling this entry ‘baseless’ let’s move the conversation forward and keep it positive by disproving my hypothesis — I’m hoping you will prove me wrong!

    I’m increasingly feeling like we should go back to the Old Days when there was (in my imagination at least) a series of smaller regional conferences. They’d be easier to get to, and way more collegial. I know people who attend the AES conference always say they like it more than the big one, and I know my I always enjoy the ASAOS (the Pacificists meetings) way more than the AAAs, mostly because they are so much smaller.

  25. At least we know that revenue from meetings comes from many sources besides registration fees. A big chunk is the cost to book publishers to rent space in the book exhibit. $3,000 for Entrance Booths, $2,700 for Showcase, $2,600, $2,400 for Prime Booths Booths ,$2,200 for Run of the Hall, $1,800

  26. Jason Watkins, the AAA meeting manager, was very kind to supply this data. As I mentioned above, not all the meeting revenue is from registration–only 75% is from participant registration. TOTAL REGISTRANTS for 2011 Montreal meeting was 6558. Professional Member 2836; Professional NonMember 294; Student Member 1957; Student NonMember 33;, Undergraduate Student 204; International Nonmember 10; Underemployed or Unemployed Member 526; Student Saturday 206; Retired Member 113; Complimentary (Section Assembly Waivers, Leadership Waivers, WCAA Waivers)76; One Day 5.

  27. As an adjunct at three places, with 6 classes, only half of them “anthropology,” as A Phd anthrop. (Harvard 1988) who has pretty much stopped going to AAA mtgs, I had thought about contributing the following idea: why not make the plight of adjuncts, and grad-students, who are unfortunately, most of them, adjuncts-in-training, a key focus at some upcoming mtg? I mean a key focus–on the theory that this might be of interest to everybody in anthropology, given that over the past 40 years the ratio of fttt faculty to adjuncts and contingents has flipped, so that in higher ed over all, the faculty is 70% adcon, and anthropology, if anything, is in even worse shape? Oh, I guess I did contribute that idea. Anyway, my feeling is that the annual mtgs are not only, in some way, a kind of regressive tax, they’re also a bit like the remarkable ceremonials that British viceroys liked to arrange in the later 19th and early 20th century in India–they have some effect, but it’s hard to measure, and it’s probably not what the designers intend, and lots of the real action in terms of the survival or not of the whole system is happening elsewhere.

  28. Thanks for the stats, Laura. Although, I have done the math and it looks like 298 people are not accounted for. Is one category missing?

    “As I mentioned above, not all the meeting revenue is from registration–only 75% is from participant registration.”

    Ok, so 3/4 comes from registration.

    “Professional Member 2836; Professional NonMember 294…”

    For a total of 3130*, which is about 48 percent of attendees.

    “Underemployed or Unemployed Member 526…”

    It would be easy to assume that these are the ‘untenured’ or adjuncts, but I would like to know more about these numbers. I am wondering if the adjuncts are spread across a few different categories–do some register as professional members, some as un/underemployed, and others as non-members? Is there any way to tell from the AAA’s stats who is and who is not tenured? Do they even ask that question?

    Regarding revenue: Based upon current rates, this would mean that $95,206.00 comes from self-declared un/underemployed anthropologists.

    Also using current rates, this would mean that $208,711.00 comes from students.

    *If this number includes some adjuncts in there then it would have to be revised to give us a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

  29. This is a great discussion about an important issue, and I hope you don’t mind a rather late note from someone who has been attending AAA meetings for 40 years, and has served on or chaired more than 20 search committees.

    First, my experience, and the experience of many of my long-time colleagues and friends, is that the interviews at the AAA meetings serve mainly to weed out candidates, not to “meet” candidates or find that one gem. We get hundreds of applications for any tenure-track position, and the meetings are a quick and easy way to toss out large numbers of applications. We may save a small number for further consideration, but almost any flaw can get you eliminated at the Meetings.

    In practical terms, this means that your chances of getting a good, close look by a search committee are better if you do NOT interview at the AAA meetings, and instead send in your application materials after the Meetings. You are then being compared to a much smaller number of lucky applicants who survived the AAA meat market.

    I know this sounds brutal, and a bit counter-intuitive, but I find that an AAA interview is never required by a search, and is often a kiss-of-death. When I think of the last 5 people we have hired in my department, none of them were interviewed at the AAA meetings. My experience may not be representative of the field as a whole, but I’d be curious to hear otherwise.

  30. Talking about the state of the AAA is largely missing the point. Yes, there are things they could (and should) do to cut the cost of the meetings, but the battle to be won against the AAA is unimportant compared to the funding cuts underway at the state and federal level.

    Look at the situation in California and Florida. The situation in California is so dire (and ripe for satire) that a chunk of the state budget was riding on the Facebook IPO.

    As well, you have to look at the rise in executive compensation (why do universities have executives?) and the role auxiliary corporations have played in privatizing public universities.

    And then there is the issue of for-profit universities, which absorb about 30 billion a year in public money and boast a profit margin around 19%.

  31. Hi Michael,

    “Yes, there are things they could (and should) do to cut the cost of the meetings, but the battle to be won against the AAA is unimportant compared to the funding cuts underway at the state and federal level.”

    Why turn this into an either/or argument like that? Of course the issue with state and federal funding cuts is huge…but that does not mean we should just ignore what’s going on with the AAAs. I don’t understand that logic at all. Of course there are bigger battles, but it’s also important to deal with certain problems and challenges that are sitting right in front of us all.

  32. I agree with Ryan. Reforming the AAA conference is a great place to start. Some suggestions:

    1) Hold the meeting in a cheaper city. I agree with the anth dept chair posting on the AAA blog who said the meeting should not be held in any city that exceeds the national city average for lodging and food.

    2) Slash admissions and membership costs for students, unemployed and underemployed attendees.

    3) Stop having preliminary interviews at AAA.

  33. @Ryan

    I didn’t say either/or. Those are your words. I said the battle to be won against the AAA was unimportant in comparison to the larger issue of how higher education is funded.

    The reason the meetings are a financial burden is because there is not enough money in the university system. The relation is cause to symptom. You can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic a few times, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue.

    With 30 billion a year going to for profits (no anthropology there) maybe the AAA should hire a lobbyist with their $600,000. I think the Apollo group only spends about $700,000 per year and look what they get.

  34. “The reason the meetings are a financial burden is because there is not enough money in the university system.”

    No. There is a lot of money in the university system. But only a small number of people are getting it.

    Half of the attendees are graduate students or adjuncts. I think it’s reasonable to say that they are making $20,000 or less per year. Conference expenses in cities like San Francisco, DC or Montreal probably average $1000-$2000, in large part because of the high cost of hotels, transportation and food. High attendance and admissions costs are also a problem. Why are unemployed and underemployed attendees paying more than students and close to the amount professors pay?

    On that note, it would be interesting to hear from the anthropologists who do not attend the conference because they cannot afford it. Lowering the travel costs would increase the economic diversity of the conference attendees. Unless, of course, this is something the AAA wishes to avoid.

    This problem is not hard to solve. Nor is the discrimination hard to see.

  35. @Sarah

    “No. There is a lot of money in the university system. But only a small number of people are getting it.”

    I’ll use California as an example because the system is large and the numbers are available.

    In FY1979 spending on the UC and CSU system in California constituted 10.1% of the state budget. In FY2011 the UC and CSU system accounted for 6.6% of the state budget.

  36. @Michael

    Hey, I’m with you on the collapse of the education higher system. I agree with what you’re saying. But it doesn’t change the fact that there are inequalities within higher education that need to be rectified. There is no reason that adjuncts should be paid so little. Worse, there is no reason adjuncts should *accept* being paid so little. And there is no reason that adjuncts and graduate students should be paying such an exorbitant amount of money to attend a disciplinary conference.

    You’re right that the AAA conference is no big deal compared to the problems in California. The bright side of that, however, is that the AAA conference is a problem we can fix.

  37. @Michael:

    “I didn’t say either/or. Those are your words. I said the battle to be won against the AAA was unimportant in comparison to the larger issue of how higher education is funded.”

    Yes, those are my words. Look, I’m just saying it does not have to be one or the other that we label as important or worth doing something about. That’s all. Of course there are going to be bigger battles and bigger issues!

    By your logic, the “larger issue of how higher education is funded” is unimportant in comparison with the global economic meltdown, which in turn is unimportant when you consider the fact that the sun is going to go supernova someday. I mean, why even worry about *any* of it?

  38. @Ryan

    I entered this conversation in response to the claim that the AAA conference was run in an exploitive manner. Pointing out that the AAA has little or no control over the larger issues of funding in higher education which have led directly to the plight of adjuncts is not exactly an absurdity.

    @Sarah

    I agree with your estimate of $1,000-2,000 to attend the meetings. Now, even if the AAA instituted a starving anthro rate (which I think they should) the savings would amount to 5-20% of the total cost of attendance. In any case, it doesn’t rise to the level of: “The AAA conference discriminates against its most disadvantaged members.”

    The political front line of the adjunct issue has to be unionization. This is where a difference can, and will eventually, be made in improving working conditions and job security. In particular, the stance of the AAUP, AFT, and NEA towards adjuncts needs to be scrutinized.

    The fault line between tenured and adjunct everyone is so quick to notice in the AAA meeting rates is far more meaningful at the level of unionization. One is insult, the other injury.

  39. @Michael:

    “I entered this conversation in response to the claim that the AAA conference was run in an exploitive manner.”

    Ok. I entered the conversation–as a grad student–thinking “Ya, the costs are high, maybe we can do something about it.”

    “Pointing out that the AAA has little or no control over the larger issues of funding in higher education which have led directly to the plight of adjuncts is not exactly an absurdity.”

    And I agree with you about your point–I have said that twice now. At the same time, I think it might be worthwhile to rethink some of the costs of attending our annual meeting. The AAA does not have control of certain larger structural issues, but it does have at least some say about the costs of its annual meetings.

  40. I’ll play devil’s advocate here and suggest that the AAA Meetings are simply a luxury for most of the people attending, certainly a luxury for the undergraduates and many of the graduate students, so complaints about the cost relative to student budgets are not meaningful. Perhaps one way to encourage the AAA to find cheaper ways of running a conference is to stop going unless your presence is absolutely vital, and the sudden drop in income might prompt the AAA staff to explore alternatives.

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