Article sparks new round of criticism of costs associated with academic conferences

Scholars — particularly those working off the tenure track, with little to no access to institutional professional development or travel funds — have long criticized the costs associated with attending academic conferences. But a recent round of criticism comes from tenure-track and tenured professors, as well, with some proposing alternative means of meeting in response to logistical, political and, of course, financial concerns.

“Yes, being an academic is a privilege. Yes, we are lucky to get to see the insides of conference centers the world over. And yes, we need to have a discussion about the cost we’re required to pay to keep this privilege,” Pamela L. Gay, an assistant research professor of astronomy at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, wrote in a Medium blog post called “The Unacknowledged Costs of Academic Travel.”

Conference costs — from major purchases, such as airfare, to smaller ones, such as in-transit Wi-Fi — can quickly eat up significant shares of academics’ budgets, Gay says. While that may be feasible for more senior faculty members or deans who can afford to personally cover what they are not reimbursed for or be without funds while awaiting reimbursement, she adds, it’s not for newer, lower-paid professors and adjuncts.

Gay goes on to call conference costs, even those reimbursed by institutions, interest-free loans or savings given to a college or university from a faculty member, given the lag time on reimbursements. Moreover, she says, these institutions benefit from their faculty members attending conferences, and the conferences aren’t optional: professors must attend them to be promoted.

Despite the cultural and professional taboos surrounding talk of money, Gay says, “We need to stop being silent, and start recognizing that academia taxes people for the right to keep and advance their careers.” If institutions aren’t going to pay people more but still ask them to travel, she wrote, “changes…

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