Presidential Letter - Annual Meeting Location (Pt. 2)

In my most recent letter, I outlined the reasons why there are so few cities that can accommodate the SCS-AIA Joint Annual Meeting. That constraint has mainly to do with facilities, and it will likely remain even if we decide to meet at another time of year. In fact, it could get worse, because at another time we might face more competition from the corporate sector, and thus higher costs. But there are good reasons to consider meeting at another time of year, anyway.

Before we get to that, why do we meet when we do in the first place? Many will remember that we once met between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which was a more advantageous time than the current one in certain ways. There was no chance of interfering with anyone’s teaching schedule. Not only had the climate not yet got out of control, but the December date remains less subject to outlandish weather (at least so far). And hotel rates are lower then, because most people are at home with their families. But, in fact, families are the main reason that we, and other learned societies, made the change that we did. (Credit for this goes largely to the WCC and to analogous organizations in other disciplines.) Some years ago, as we realized that the current date tended to interfere with the start of the new semester at some schools, we revisited the question of when to meet. SCS actually voted to go back to the old date, and AIA voted for a date in November. Staying put was everyone’s second choice, and that about sums it up. But what would we say now?

As I wrote in my previous letter, all of these decisions are predicated on one assumption:

"SCS members and AIA members agree that they want SCS and AIA to continue holding a Joint Annual Meeting."

I’ve already made the point that SCS members and AIA members, when they were last polled, could not agree on a first choice of when to meet, and that both sides were willing to compromise, in preference to parting ways. It probably won’t be any easier to agree on meeting at some other time. Summers are impossible for AIA, because so many of their members are in the field. For SCS members, on the other hand, meeting when classes are in session has never had much appeal. One reason is that there are already quite a few meetings during the fall or spring semester that many of our members usually attend. Among Classics organizations, CAAS meets in the middle of the fall, CANE and CAPN in March, and CAMWS also in the late spring. Besides those, there are ASOR and SBL in November, CAA in February, and AAH in April. This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the picture.

Before deciding that we should stand pat on timing, but focus on meeting in warm-weather cities, please remember a point I made in my previous letter, and let me add another.

First, the universe of possible venues is pretty small, barely more than two dozen cities, of which only half a dozen are really attractive to members (not because they say they want to go there, but because they actually do); and the majority of these are not warm-weather cities. In fact, most of the warmer venues draw significantly fewer members than the colder ones.

Second, holding a winter meeting in a warm city doesn’t guarantee that your travel will be trouble-free. The last time we met in the South, I personally had my worst SCS travel adventure ever. My plane left balmy San Antonio, a city I love to  visit, right on time, but was barely able to touch down in Atlanta because of a massive blizzard that was heading up the east coast, closing every airport in its path. After two days in Atlanta, I was booked on a flight home to Philadelphia through Detroit, where again the airport was shut down moments after I landed. I did finally make it home, but four days later than I expected. The obvious point is that the air travel system is a system, and your plans can be ruined either because of where you are, where you have to go, where you have to change planes, or even because of something that happened in a different part of the country altogether.

In spite of all that, it may be that when we currently meet is still on balance the best time, or the least bad time, to meet; I’m not convinced of that, but it’s not impossible. On the other hand, while a different time will bring with it different problems that we can’t foresee, we shouldn’t let that stop us from making a change if that seems the best thing, or even the least bad thing, to do.

Most of you will have thought of all this, but I thought it was worth just putting it in writing before we get started on a decision-making process. We will do that as soon as we can confer with the AIA leadership, but in the meantime, I invite you to write me informally with any thoughts you may have about when and where we should meet in the future.

- Joe Farrell

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