APA Scheduling

For at least the last 7 years, the Pacific APA meeting has fallen over the Easter holiday (and other associated holy days for Christians). For at least the last couple of years, the Pacific APA has also fallen over part of Passover. I realize this has been brought up for discussion before, but I want to raise the issue again because it does strike me that this is a very serious issue of inclusion. Several wonderful philosophers I know had to skip this last APA meeting because of religious obligations. This is not purely a matter of religious inclusion either; those whom have primary care responsibilities for children will, I suspect, find attending both the Pacific and the Eastern division meetings rather difficult given school holidays.

I am sure no one is intentionally scheduling meetings so as to keep the religious philosophers and the primary-caregivers out—but the effects are problematic regardless of intentions. So, here is my question: Why is the APA schedule as it is, and what can we do about it?

Regarding the “why” issue, we already know the motivation is to keep costs down, and for whatever reason, hotel rates for conferences tend to be less expensive at these times, and rearranging the schedule will increase the cost. I’d be curious to know just how much of a difference in cost is at issue here, but however much it is, it seems there’s an easy solution: Move the APA meetings to less expensive locations to compensate for the difference.

Yes, I know; if we don’t have the APA meetings in lovely places like San Francisco, it might turn out that conference “attendance” will drop. Now, I’ve put “attendance” in quotes, because while this is the most common reply I’ve received when discussing the possibility of moving the meetings, it is entirely unclear to me how many philosophers who are primarily motivated by the location, actually attend the conference itself outside their own sessions.


36 thoughts on “APA Scheduling

  1. My understanding is that when moving the conference to “less expensive” locations has been suggested, it’s regularly been voted down, and is also pretty difficult- many of them don’t have big enough hotels, it seems. (And, may not be that much less expensive, if they are more expensive to get to, as “regional” places often are.) Richard Bett, the relevant person for the Eastern APA, has been very good about discussing and presenting this information, but it’s also handled by the various regions, so different people would have to be talked to for each region. The general morals from the discussions I’ve seen have been that, 1) it’s a lot harder to put these things together than most philosophers seem to think, and most of the “obvious” answers turn out to be non-starters when the details are looked at. 2) The actually possible alternative options have turned out to be unpopular with the large majority of the membership.

  2. Forgive me for being a bit undemocratic, but I genuinely don’t think it should matter if moving the conferences is popularly supported. Many times, doing what’s necessary for inclusion is unpopular.

  3. Isn’t at least part of the motivation (as it was for the APA Eastern) that the conferences fall when classes aren’t in session.

  4. ajkreider–yes, certainly. But, most colleges and universities are still not in session through at least part of January, and as Paul Weithman noted on the Leiter thread from a few years ago, other (smaller) professional organizations have been able to make it work scheduling meetings at those later dates (his is comment 6). http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2010/09/is-the-pacific-apa-meeting-scheduled-to-meet-on-easter-intentionally-and-should-it-be.html

  5. This came up when I was on program committee for the APA Pacific. I have two comments apropos of that discussion. First, the view was that it was ok to conflict with Easter but not with Passover. Sorry. That is discrimination. Secondly, I would LOVE to have these meetings at less expensive venues, and less expensive facilities. It isn’t only the expense of hotels in these prime areas–I stayed at the local Motel 6 for the last APA–but the peripheral costs. E.g. powerpoint set-ups! This is like $500 – $700 for a 2 hour session at convention hotels in these areas! I’ve noted this at the business meeting!

    AS far as participation and popularity, shit: if you care about where the conference is, to hell with you. My impression is that these days most who present are grad students or junior faculty. They need to do this professionally and have a hard time paying. Sorry: if there are people who wouldn’t go if the APA were in a less desirable area then they don’t deserve to go, And we aren’t missing anything: there are wonderful people giving wonderful papers who aren’t secure, tenured or PhD’d. Let’s be serious: if you aren’t willing to go to an APA in Fresno you aren’t worthy to be a philosopher!

    Yeah, it’s tough logistically and you need lot’s of space, but with some effort this could be organized is less expensive areas.

  6. @Harriet Baber.The Pacific APA typically ends on the Saturday preceding Easter, so there is no conflict for those that want to observe the religious services of Easter Sunday. Passover lasts for 8 days, so the chances of avoiding a conflict with Passover are nil if the meetings fall at the same time of year. The most important days of Passover are the first two, the seders, observance of which is family driven — children play a central role in the service which is conducted at the dinner table. In my experience, the Pacific APA always overlaps part of Passover, but rarely (though sometimes) overlaps with the first two nights, when the seder takes place. I do not see that there is any discrimination, and indeed, the scheduling, if anything more consistently favors those wanting to attend mass and be with their families on Easter Sunday.

  7. @Shapiro. Easter includes holy week events that are important to many of us, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter isn’t only Easter Sunday. The APA zaps the whole drama of Holy Week, which is important to many of us. The bottom line, and I’m now zipping up my asbestos suit, is that Judaism is ok, because it doesn’t assume belief in God, because most who profess to be Jews are atheists which is APA accepatable, and because it supports an ethnic minority, but Christianity isn’t.

  8. Great thread. Two quick additional comments.

    (1) Even if the conference couldn’t be permanently moved off of Holy Week and Passover, it would be nice if some years there was no conflict (i.e. some years we went for the weeks where schools typically hold Spring Break). Even if there are no conference sessions on Sunday, it is usually a stretch for folks to get home to their families in time. And observant Catholics typically attend services on Thurs, Fri and Sat of Holy Week (indeed, the big event is Saturday night–the Vigil). I know many other Christian denominations have some event or other on Good Friday. We will never please everyone all of the time, but it might be good to aim for pleasing everyone some of the time? Plus it would improve the APAs to occasionally have some of our observant colleagues come.

    (2) I agree on the need for more flexible venues. And indeed, it seems sometimes the most attractive hotel locations are not the best for conference-purposes. Compare the relatively well-attended sessions at freezing-cold Chicago Central APAs to the sparser sessions of the sunny New Orleans Central. So I also would be interested in having more flexible venues. Plus it would be cool to see Fresno…

    All that said, I have *a lot* of respect for the philosophers who work so hard to schedule and organize these. It is a ton of work, that often isn’t recognized enough by the greater profession.

  9. I’m not pushing the religious angle, though I would like to point out that for those of us who are religious believers the issue isn’t family time! Or even really getting to services.

    The important thing is arranging times and places that are affordable and convenient to participants, in particular to participants who don’t have great travel money and really need to be there. I wish there were some way to have these events at universities, where the powerpoint is free (yeah, that’s my thing). I know it takes a lot or work and organization to put on these events, and I greatly appreciate what the APA does. Of all the organizations and institutions in which I participate, the APA has always been the best. The staff also, the guys who set it up the conferences and help us out at them, as we all know, are just wonderful: I can give testimony. I think we all can.

    But I just wish that we weren’t so bought into the downtown hotel convention glitz business.

  10. I am going to ignore the basic misunderstanding of Judaism in Baber’s comment, and simply point out that the APA and indeed most academic institutions in North America ignore the major religious observances of most religions other than Christianity — we do not make accommodation for Sikh or Muslim holidays (how many readers know when Eid falls? without googling?), and indeed, most institutions do not even make allowances for the Jewish high holidays (let alone Passover). That is why most educational institutions (or at least mine does) in policy assures students can reschedule assignments and exams that conflict with religious observances. Unlike evaluations, attending an APA is not required but is optional. There are, in fact, three APAs, at least one of which do not conflict with the religious obligations of an individual, whatever his or her creed, and there are also smaller specialized conferences that one can attend to get feedback on work. Do all APAs need to fail to conflict with a major Christian holiday? If so, why is Christianity so special?

  11. @Lisa in 6, setting aside that there are religious events throughout the week preceding Easter that many celebrate (and I do believe that the conference has also conflicted with the first two days of Passover as well) there still is a conflict, even with the conference ending on Saturday for those who only want to make it to Easter Sunday services. Someone I know was asked to comment on a paper, but when they asked if they could be assured that their session would be scheduled before Saturday afternoon so that they could travel home in time to go to services with their family, the answer was, unfortunately, no. They had to turn down the offer to comment. This strikes me as a bad situation for all.

    I do like the idea above very much, about attempting to alternate if we can’t always avoid scheduling on holidays.

  12. Lisa, I do actually know (about) when Eid falls (as it changes year to year).

    Edit: Note, I realized after I posted it that this comment easily reads as snark. That was not my intention. I only meant to indicate that I am attempting to be sensitive across the board, and were an APA to conflict with major Islamic holidays, I would find that problematic as well. No major professional events that I know of in our discipline conflict with those holidays (though, obviously, there may be others — holidays and events — that I am unaware of).

  13. A very large professional organization that i belong to often holds meetings in Reno or Vegas. Casino hotels love to have lots of people come to their establishment for conferences and hopefully drop money into the gambling sinkhole. Because of this, housing and food and conference space can be relatively cheaper compared to non casino venues. Of course, one has to wend one’s way through the gambling traps to get from sleeping room to the conference rooms, but one must be strong….
    As I recall, one year an enterprising grad student managed to accumulate enough funds for his next year studies…

  14. Just for the record I have no brief for where the APA holds its meetings. Since I invariably have to travel, when I do go, I prefer the meetings to be held in locations where I have to make as few connections as possible. Not only is there lower probability of a travel snag, there is also a lower carbon footprint. San Jose or Pasadena (or Ontario or Anaheim, for that matter) count the same as San Francisco or LA. Chicago is better than Cincinatti or New Orleans in this regard.
    And I certainly agree with Harriet Baber that hotels charge excessively for data projectors and other technology. However, universities often charge for these services (not all universities have fully wired rooms), and for meeting space, as well. Many universities seek to make money off hosting conferences, actually, and holding meetings at universities does not come with hotel room cost savings. Of course, if the meetings are in the summer, then one can always stay in dorms, but you would be shocked at what one is asked to pay to stay in a dorm room with a shared bathroom (I’ve paid $100/night, and that was not in a major metropolitan area). There is no optimal solution around these issues.

  15. My thoughts always return to the same final point, which is that there are just too many conferences. There really are. They don’t pay for themselves, they take a ton of work, and we seem to hold them for some good reasons but many just plain traditional, historical, habituated and often bad reasons. Every good reason we hold APA meetings can be satisfied by other meetings or other activities. Every bad reason is a reason not to have these at all. And every reason that’s neither good nor especially bad but based largely on tradition ought to be re-examined.

    I envision a future in which the APA holds just one meeting a year in mid-summer. It can alternate regions, so that the “eastern” becomes the years it’s on/near the east coast, the “pacific” just becomes the years it’s on/near west coast, and the “central” is, etc. Then the meeting is not hooked up to a job interview, it’s not stomping on a holiday, it’s not freaking out most instructors, and it’s dangerously fun-sounding.

  16. The organizers of the Pacific Division meetings have been discussing the Easter/Passover issue off and on for several years, and are not unaware of most of the pros and cons concerning it.

    Some of the non-obvious dimension of things: the Pacific Division meeting is not so big that it can throw its weight around with hotels and hotel prices; meetings dates are usually secured years in advance, and are hemmed in by several factors (including: contracts are negotiated years in advance; we also need to work with union hotels, which means that union contracts have to be in place years in advance to ensure that there are no more instances of the meeting running afoul of picketing); the fact that negotiations are trickier than you might think because despite our comparatively small size we need a huge number of meeting rooms and our members tend not to spend a lot of money in the hotels where they stay. Also, the numbers/location interaction matters for several reasons: registrations aren’t just about how many bodies are in the meetings, but how much it costs to put on the conference; it also affects predictability of hotel size and use (if we don’t use enough of our reserved room blocks and/or can’t guarantee certain amounts of spending in the hotel, it costs the APA money). Some options—like Las Vegas—are routinely rejected because of the “ick” factor and the sense that many members would not feel welcome in that city.

    The good news is that it is very likely that we will, sometime in the next few years, have a Pacific Div meeting that is not during Easter/Passover. So, we’ll get a natural experiment of sorts about whether and how this affects who attends.

    Personally, I’d love to see us move off of Easter/Passover. That said, I’ve also found that for every person who thinks moving off that week would be a good thing, there is someone else who thinks that it is ideal because of the way it is less likely to conflict with school obligations or the like.

    Finally, just to clear up any confusions, projector services can be secured for you by the Pacific Division, without you paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket. You just have to get your request in when the Pacific Division asks for it—as they ask of all session organizers for the group program and all folks on the main program—, because the division negotiates with local providers in advance to secure this service at a competitive rate. (Why does the Division do it that way? A: it is too expensive for the Pac Div to buy and maintain its own equipment, and fire code and union requirements mean that individuals can’t bring their own gear and use it.) If you don’t let the Pacific Division know you need a projector when asked, the Pac Div gets stuck with horrifically expensive rates per projector set up, which they have sensibly declined to do. See here for more details: http://apa-pacific.org/current/av.php

  17. I think the university option deserves more attention. In Canada the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences is hosted annually by a university and it is just great. Some folks stay on campus, some stay in hotels. The papers are in classrooms and lecture halls, which already have projection equipment. Beer flows like water and fun is had by all.

  18. This claim surprises me:
    “I genuinely don’t think it should matter if moving the conferences is popularly supported. Many times, doing what’s necessary for inclusion is unpopular.”

    Any time when the conference is scheduled will work poorly for some people. Unless people think that religious reason should trump others (a claim I’d certainly reject), or that “I want to spend time with my family” trumps others (again, a claim I’d reject) then it’s not clear why moving the conference would be more “inclusive” as such. Given that the APA is a large and diverse body, I don’t see how any sort of decision-making other than democratic decision-making can be proper for these issues. Of course, it’s reasonable for people to explain their reasons for wanting one time rather than another, and people can take those into consideration. But the idea that someone (who?) should just decide that certain preferences trump others here, on his or her own, seems to me to be a pretty implausible view.
    (I think it’s important to see that “inclusion” here doesn’t mean, say, providing access for those with disabilities, but rather, giving special weight to certain preferences.)

    Carla- how big is the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences (of Canada) conference compared to an APA conference? That’s a real question. My impression is that most Canadian conferences, even national ones, are quite a bit smaller than an APA meeting, though that might be wrong.

  19. Matt, I am surprised you’re surprised! First, if the suggestion is that if popular support indicates availability during that time, then I agree popular support matters. But, I don’t take it that popularity of given times is strictly a matter of when people don’t have other conflicts. Second, while I’m not religious myself, I take it that many of our religious colleagues already feel like an overlooked minority often in academia, and I’d like to take that concern seriously when possible. Third, I take it that many of our religious colleagues see their religion as intimately tied up with their sense of identity, and as with many forms of social identity, I like to take that kind of exclusion more seriously than preferences that arise in many other ways.

  20. Matt, my concern with primary care-givers is not just a matter of wanting to spend time with family. Rather, I was thinking of people for whom it’s not possible to find alternative care options around the clock for several days over a holiday break, or for whom it is unaffordable.

    I do very much like several of the suggestions that are now in this thread though (less conferences, university options, Fresno, etc.)

  21. OK look let’s divide the question. I really don’t care about the Easter/Passover issue. According to the PhilPapers survey, only 14% of us are “theists or lean to theism” and, though I’m one of that 14%, I frankly don’t give a damn. The issue is COSTS. And, again, I know the APA handles the powerpoint projector costs, but this is still a cost for the APA. And I understand that the issue is union and fire code because lots of us, like me, have our own equipment and no problem setting it up.

    I’ve really a little vexed that the APA should be influenced by the “ick” factor when it comes to meeting is Las Vegas or other venues, and I’m not sure what the “not feel welcome” code here is. If it’s non-gay-friendly regulations or other objectionable policies–fine. Avoid them. But surely there are cheap places that don’t have morally objectionable policies on the books.

    I understand the difficulty of getting these things set up, and I appreciate the efforts of the APA in doing it. I’d hate to see conferences cut back: many of us, particularly those of us at colleges where we don’t have much opportunity for to present research or discuss with colleagues depend on thee meetings to get the kind of stimulation and interaction we need to pursue research.

    I really, really don’t like staying at these 5 star hotels in tourist areas. If hotshots don’t want to go to meetings in non-tourist areas, fine. More for us. Like many of us, I don’t go to these meetings to get a free ticket for sight-seeing: I just want to spend the time in the hotel going to papers. Tourism is a temptation and a distraction. And I speak as a big APA fan–I love what our professional society is doing for us! Among organizations the APA is excellent and has been wonderful in supporting us, in getting members involved on a volunteer basis to do business, in doing business in the most effective and efficient way. And as a conference junkie, as everyone knows, who has been to an average of about 1.9 APAs per year since puberty.

    I just wish, wish we could have these conferences set up in a more modest way. We just don’t need this glitz.

  22. I also want to discuss the university option more seriously. The APAs are not *that* big (and as Carla points out, Canada’s version is held as part of a much, much larger Congress of the Humanities — 7000+ delegates). This would solve lots of cost issues, including A/V requirements (since most universities are well equipped these days).

  23. I’d be very keen on pursuing this option. We discussed it at the Phil and Computers committee, mainly in connection with the A/V issue, and I also brought it up at the business meeting so it’s on the table. Granted it will take a few years turn-around time but there’s a new administration in the APA and this would be a good time to push for some changes.

  24. I think there are complicated issues here. What is not complicated is the profound caricature and insulting attack on Judaism put forth by Harriet Baber. Saying most Jews are atheists is both untrue and a coded way of saying that Jews are far away from God (unlike, apparently, those who celebrate Easter). I would think that readers of a blog like Feminist Philosophers, who work so hard to be fair to all groups, would have responded more forcefully to such ignorance. Perhaps Jewish readers ought to go elsewhere where their religion and beliefs are not dismissed with the wave of a hand. (If only there were some longstanding and intimate connection between Jews and Feminism…)

  25. I’m Jewish and an atheist and a feminist and I in no way feel insulted by Harriet Baber’s comments.

    Although the Jews whom I know are not a representative cross section of Jews regarding religious beliefs, none of them believe in God as taught by traditional Judaism. There are lots of atheists, an agnostic deist (he’s agnostic about deism, but an atheist about the traditional Jewish deity) and a pantheist.

    Most of them celebrate passover. I don’t myself.

  26. I thought it was the case that a slight majority of American Jews are either atheist or agnostic, which is why I didn’t take it to be much of a caricature (though it might be a caricature of why the APA would, reportedly, have more of an interest in avoiding conflicts with Passover than with Easter). As an agnostic of Jewish heritage, I didn’t take it that it was me she was insulting (or practicing Jews) but academics who are believed to be hostile to theism. Most of my non-practicing Jewish friends still celebrate major Jewish holidays with their families.

  27. I have been to the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences (of Canada) and they are massive so very useful for interdisciplinary scholars. Academics should also consider university locations because of the current financial climate. If the private sector does not support academia and are not hiring as much as they should, why shouldn’t academics keep the conference money “in house” until that attitude changes?

  28. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anything here – just a point of information (full disclosure, I am currently chair of the executive committee of the APA Pacific Division): the Pacific Division offers childcare for anyone who wishes to take advantage of that option. I just want folks to know that it is available.

  29. The Central and Eastern divisions are already trying experiments for their meetings. The Central has now tried Minneapolis and New Orleans over the past three meetings and they’ll try St. Louis the year after next. (My opinion is that New Orleans was fun but a disaster in terms of reducing cost – it was the most expensive APA meeting I’ve ever attended.)
    The Eastern Division has already decided to try moving to early January, starting in 2016 (that is, there will be no Eastern Division meeting in 2015). Announced on the APA web site.
    The Pacific should try some experiments, too. Las Vegas seems like a bad idea to me, but they could try it and see. Or Fresno, or San Jose.

    My own preferences are similar to Lisa Shapiro’s, but I think the Divisions should plan their meetings for the times when most philosophers will go. I’m against speculating about whether the people who wouldn’t go in, say, May, have less important reasons than the Christians who won’t go on Good Friday.

  30. I’ve been pushing for Vegas for many years for the Pacific APA, mostly for completely self-interested geographical reasons. (Everything is always really far away from my institution. Vegas is actually sort of close.) And, frankly, I dislike it. But it would be affordable and there are non-stop flights there from many US cities. (There’s even a non-stop from London!) And it has great restaurants. I think one of the things people like about going to the APA is checking out the eating options. I also think maybe the “ick” factor is a kind of snobbishness that we might want to ignore. I wish the APA would just give it a try. If attendance drops, then we can always go back to the drawing board.

  31. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but could someone explain the Vegas “ick” factor to me? Is it the fact that they have lots of gambling? Is it the fact that the streets on the Vegas strip are very busy at night? I guess Vegas just looks like another city to me.

  32. Philosophers complaining of tackiness seems a little hypocritical, especially when we’re talking about conferences ;) Philosophy and “fashion” don’t usually go together. Also, receptions where the free beer is something like Budweiser are a little “tacky.”

  33. Rachel, there was free Napa Valley wine at the SF smoker!
    Soooooooo fashionable.

    Also, I happen to have met Prof. Stark, and I have to say you owe her a fashion apology! She’s no hypocrite.

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