The Future of the Academic Conference
Inside Higher Ed
September 13, 2021
Pitched the Delta curveball, some scholarly associations are turning to online meetings again while others are proceeding with plans to meet face-to-face in the coming weeks. These groups are also thinking about what annual meetings will look like in a post-pandemic world, with major implications for equity and accessibility.
Like colleges and universities, scholarly associations had been looking forward to something resembling a normal academic year. That meant scheduling in-person annual conferences again, after more than year of virtual programs.
The Delta variant has of course frustrated those plans and led some organizations to transition to virtual meetings once more.
The American Sociological Association, for instance, called off its Chicago conference, planned for last month, after “it became clear that the global health crisis would not be resolved by our meeting dates and a large gathering of people from around the world would present an untenable health risk,” said Nancy Kidd, the group’s executive director.
Instead of meeting in person, the ASA welcomed sociologists to an online meeting that included hundreds of sessions, plus virtual social events, games and exhibits. Kidd said the event was successful, in terms of attendance and engagement. The group’s 2022 meeting is still scheduled for Los Angeles.
The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities last week pulled the plug on its annual meeting, set for Philadelphia in November. The group will now convene its meeting online.
Jeff Lieberson, APLU’s spokesperson, said, “We wanted to have an in-person meeting and that was the plan.” But after having conversations with members across the country and examining the state of the pandemic, including the spread of the Delta variant, he said, the group determined it wasn’t “practical to have an in-person annual meeting. The health and safety of APLU staff and members has been and always will be a top priority.”
Other associations are moving ahead with in-person conferences this year, citing members’ desire for this kind of experience. Aware of the health risks, organizations say they’re taking their health and safety cues from federal and local officials. This generally means setting expectations or requiring that attendees be vaccinated and wear masks.
These associations are also offering select virtual options for colleagues who opt to stay home.