Saturday, December 02, 2006

Minor practical and ethical dilemma

So I'm going to MLA again this year, mainly because George Washington Boyfriend is on the market, but also because it's not in a totally inconvenient location relative to the rest of my winter break plans, and because I do enjoy many of the panels, catching up with friends and professional acquaintances, &c.

But I haven't registered yet. What with that whole four-months-without-a-salary, moving-to-a-new-location-and-setting-up-house thing, I'm in pretty tight financial straits, and I just couldn't afford to pay the $125 early registration fee last month; I figured it would be easier to pay the full $150 fee later this month. But now, looking ahead to my projected expenses, I'm not even so sure about that.

I'm thinking about not registering at all.

Practically, I don't think that this would pose too much of a problem. GWB and I already have a hotel room, and in my past experience I don't recall nametages being regularly checked by MLA staff; I think they're really only strict at the book exhibit and at the big, "future-of-the-humanities"-type panels. The panels I'm interested in will likely draw between 5-40 people, and I'm pretty sure that security at the INRU reception isn't too tight, since I know people from other programs who have crashed it in past years (full, open bar, folks--'swhat I'm talking about!).

But perhaps I'm misremembering how strict nametag enforcement is, and there are a couple of panels that I'd be really disappointed if I got shut out of. And if part of the reason for going is to schmooze, maybe it's better to have the damn tag already. And there is, of course, the ethical question: could I be a good professional citizen and still be a conference freeloader?



Anonymous said...

When I was in graduate school it was a yearly holiday tradition to falisfy MLA name badges. It's not hard to do if you scan in a legitimate badge and alter it with photoshop. I'm not advocating this as a solution and I understand the complex ethical issues involved in this sort of forgery's just a thought.

Flavia said...

You know, I did think about that--for my 5th year college reunion I did something similar (took a friend's nametag to Kinko's and made a color photocopy), but I wonder whether I'm not too old, now, to go to such lengths to freeload.

(Am I?)

Pantagruelle said...

I went last year to accompany someone else. I only went to one panel and one reception and wish that I hadn't shelled out to register because it wasn't necessary. I don't remember needing to show my name tag. If I were you, I would think that the Kinko's option is just fine. My other suggestion would be to bring your name tag from a previous year. Were you there last year? Are the name tags really that distinctive from one year to the next? The conference registration fee is really high compared to other conferences that have fewer delegates. One would think that the sheer number of people at MLA would reduce the cost, not raise it. I don't think you should have to pay so much just to go to a few panels with such limited attendance that the people presenting are grateful that you would attend.

On a related note, I think MLA sucks. I've spent the last week trying to figure out how to go to my parents and then go to MLA if I get a job interview, and how to make all these arrangements at the last minute. It's really awful that job candidates don't get notified until mid-December sometimes. Yet why would I book ahead to go if I don't know if I'm going to get any US interviews or not? I'm bitter about the whole MLA interview situation, which just seems like a rip-off on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

How about you go, and if you feel you get your $150 worth out of it register on site on the last day? Or is there a lesser one-day registration option?

I know people who have done this in my field. Particularly if you're going to accompany someone else, not interviewing or presenting ...

Dr. Crazy said...

For what it's worth, I was at MLA the last time it was in Philadelphia a couple of years ago, and I was stopped at least three times to show my nametag (I'm really bad about remembering to put it on, or having it buried in my bag, etc). If I recall, it was in the first and second day that this was an issue. Last year, they didn't seem nearly so anal about the name tag thing, but remember, last year I was on a search committee and spent the bulk of the two main days in a hotel room interviewing candidates. I don't know. I would probably just pay for the registration, but I'm not very smart about spending (or saving) money.

Another option would either be to forge a nametag or to just share with somebody who wouldn't be needing theirs for the few panels that you'd want to attend.

Anonymous said...

hmm, don't people stop wearing name tags after the first and second day anyway?

what i did once was say i was my friend who lost her tag. and there will be two someones. and you can pull it out only when needed.

of course this does not address the ethical portion!

StyleyGeek said...

I've done that at conferences before. I've found the worst thing about it is that you spend the whole time feeling furtive and guilty and looking over your shoulder to see if anyone is checking nametags. It spoils the enjoyment of the conference a lot, but if it's the only way you can go, it might be worth it.

If the choice is between forging a name-tag and just not wearing one, I'd go with not wearing one. It would be less embarrassing if you were caught. If you did get caught, you could say that you were only there for one talk, or that you forgot to register until it was too late, or were planning to register but had been too busy so far, or even tell the truth, that you couldn't afford the registration.

If you've forged a tag, I can't see how you could argue your way out of it.

StyleyGeek said...

Oh, and how much does it suck that academics can't afford to attend conferences that are PART OF THEIR FRICKING JOB???

What other profession would that happen in?

Tiruncula said...

I don't have any ethical problems with creative workarounds, but I will second what Dr. Crazy said: in Philly last time there were tag-checkers EVRYWHERE, even at tiny sessions nobody would have wanted to go to.

Flavia said...


Actually, the tags *do* differ in their layout from year to year--otherwise, I'd definitely just use last year's! And you have my sympathies about the stupid scheduling; this will be the third year in a row in which I leave my parents' house, on the west coast, on an a.m. flight on the 26th, get home late at night, and turn around to plane or train it to the MLA on the 27th.

And Styley: you're completely right about a forged tag being worse, if caught, than having none at all (and I'm reasonably certain that, if I'm wearing a suit and seem sufficiently distracted/flakey/pissed off I could talk myself into a panel on the grounds that I'd left my tag in a far-away hotel room). . . but you're also right about how guilty *not* having one would make me feel! I could never be a criminal, I tell ya.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, one last thing: Remember that you can write the cost of registration, etc. off on your taxes. While that doesn't help with the immediate cashflow problem, it somehow makes me feel better about putting the registration on my credit card. (I'm probably still paying for my MLA registration from 2002. Remember, I'm crap when it comes to making good financial decisions.)

Horace said...

Just out of curiosity, is there any way to get your department to pay for the registration fee?

kfluff said...

I have to say that it took me a second to figure out what exactly the ethical dilemma is. That might have something to say about what a bad professional citizen I am, but it's also probably indicative of the ways in which many of the commenters here are appalled at the costs incurred by attending MLA. I have a hard time imagining that the entire profession will crumble if people go to a panel without paying the exorbitant fee.

medieval woman said...

They were checking all over the place at Phillie 2 years ago and I think I got checked a couple of times last year too. The Dutchman got stopped constantly because he didn't have one and he couldn't meet me in certain places because of that. They're *really* cracking down on it in my experience.

BUT, I'm glad you're going!! Hope to see you there!!

Oso Raro said...

Like Kluff, I too was wondering: Is this an ethical dilemma? I would try and grift your way through it, especially if it's just a panel or two. But how mortifying to have to bluff your way through an ID check! "Oh, it's in my room!" or "I seem to have misplaced it... it's here in my purse someplace!" (blush blush). Obviously for the last option carry a huge Mom style purse filled with checkbook, pens, cigarettes, tampons, cologne, bottle of Evian, scarf, magazines, and maybe a book or two for good measure.

I always end up registering like a good boy but then become distracted and never really go to the sessions. But I think I may turn over a new leaf at next year's ASA, which is also in Philly. Maybe actually attending a conference (you know, sessions and plenaries and all) would cure me of the nostalgia for it, as opposed to my methodology of the last few years, to cruise in and present my paper, attend whatever meeting I have to, and skiddadle.

What's funny is that I was at the MLA Philly gathering a couple of years ago to present a paper and interview, and only ended going to one panel (my own LOL) and therefore never had my expensive Name Tag checked! I feel cheated, I tell you. Of course, I was too busy running around checking my tie.

Professor B said...

Hmmmm...As Horace said, I would look into seeing if any of the fee is reimbursable by the department, and if not, I would think about paying it. If you absolutely can't pay it out of pocket, I would skip the badge entirely, as I think you mentioned, getting nailed with a fake badge will be harder to explain than no badge at all. As crappy as it is, I would be inclined to fork it over as the cost of doing business. I wish I was in your field though, as the two conferences I've been to so far this year (one specialized, the other one the major in my field) both had registration fees in excess of $600. One was a two-day conference, the other a week-long.

dhawhee said...

holy shit, professor b. i hope your field is grant-driven. ours is not.

i think that conferences where nametags are required should have a punch card registration option, where you can opt to attend 3, 4, or 5 panels, say at 10 bucks a pop. of course this has the disadvantage of increasing the resentment towards bad papers if the cost is so clearly correlated.

Flavia said...

Prof B: is that just the registration fee? Or do it include hotel/meals/etc? And how *does* one pay that? (Okay, don't tell me--a) your department covers it, and b) you get paid more than I do. I know, I know!)

And no, my department will not cover this expense--that's only typical if one is presenting or interviewing, and I'm doing neither. In fact, my institution, despite its generosity with research funds in many areas (pretty decent start-up funds, lots of small competitive grants, etc.), doesn't guarantee much funding specifically for conference travel in the first place. The Prez is currently considering a proposal to double the annual amount per faculty member, which would help but still not alleviate the problem. Luckily I have lots of airline miles I can swap for free plane tickets--but with all my spring conferences I'm still going to be out-of-pocket close to $1000 this year.

Dhawhee: I *love* the pay-per-panel model! Might inspire some panelists to jazz things up, too--in the hopes of attracting audience members--doncha think?

Theodora said...

How about calling up the conference committee and explaining the situation! They might let you register for a lower fee, or take some time to pay, or *something*.

Professor B said...

Hello Again,

Quite an interesting discussion that we've managed to generate.

To answer; Yes dhawhee, the field (engineering) is grant driven, but the current funding landscape is pretty bleak, and $600 kinda stinks no matter how you slice it, especially if you are also trying to send and support students. Sounds like the humanities and the sciences are pretty different, as reading Flavia has shown me in the past few years. ;-)

And Flavia, yeah that was just the registration fee. The department did cover the major conference in the field (for junior faculty), but the other one was up to me, and if I didn't have funded research, it would be out-of-pocket.

The department chair has been waging a losing battle to get at least one professional conference picked up per year in terms of funding, at least for the junior folks, as it is so important to get established and make contacts, especially for tenure.

But that is likely to not happen anytime soon - the budget projections just came in last week. The college's research budget last year was on the order of $8 million in external funding, which they expected to go up this year by a few percent. Given the absolutely wretched funding landscape (who needs research $$$ when we can funnel billions into a middle east quagmire!), this years actual external funding will only come to $2 million. You can imagine that the budget people around here are shitting their pants.

All in all, not a great situation to be in, and we are all feeling it.

In a side note, I was at Big National Conference during this year's Big Football Game, so I'm sorry I missed you and GWB. Hopefully paths can cross again soon.

dhawhee said...

Yah, Dr. B: That's a whole lot of dollars. Woo. I would faint if one of our conferences came in at that amount.

Sadly, Theodora, the folks at MLA would not be receptive to this idea. My grad student sent me a query about their very strictly worded policy requiring anyone remotely affiliated with languages who is staying in a hotel room at a conference rate to be registered. IOW, my student (who is registered) is bringing her husband who is in library school so that he might stay with their baby while she interviews, and she wanted to know if he should register. (My answer: hell no.)

Psycgirl said...

Okay before you all attack me, I would like to point out that I am posting with my blog name here, when I could do this anonymously...

Call me a newbie. Or an idiot. Or maybe I have a terrible fear of "breaking rules" but I just could not attend a conference and not register. I get a reduced rate to register for conferences as a grad student and they're still $150-200, and I pay out of pocket if I want to go to more than 1 conference a year. I am broker than broke and I find the registration fee.

My friend used to work on the other side of conferences, and at least in her field, the profit is from the memberships, not the conferences. Plus in psychology, some of the registration fee (for some societies) goes to travel awards for grad students, etc.

So yeah. I disagree with everyone, but I'm not an MLA person (obviously) so maybe I'd be more jaded and cynical if I was. I think you should decide if you want to go or not, and if you do then you should register.

Please don't hate me *sniff*

Flavia said...


Hey, don't worry about name-calling over here--yours is a perfectly reasonable opinion, and I'm frankly surprised that my readership is so pro-fraud! I wonder whether that says more about my readership in particular, or about literature specialists in general (you and the engineer seem to be the most vocally pro-registration readers. . . Hm. I see a study here!).

Anyway, I think I've nearly made up my mind about what I'm going to do. Those of you who see me at the conference will learn what I decided. . . and those of you who don't, won't. Thanks for the advice!

dhawhee said...


I'm on a board like that and am learning about the money stuff. I do think yours is a very important point about the organizations' roles in all this. It varies greatly by org, I'm sure of it, but it's demonstrable that the costs to host a conference are shooting up. There are intermediate organizations that will negotiate conference contracts--I think nearly every org I belong to uses one of these.

Flavia: I am tempted to offer to cover your conference fee for you to request an official nametag that says FLAVIA FESCUE (or at least for you to mark that on the flip side). But alas, I am having the a similar registration dilemma, though I'm not planning to attend panels.

Rhonda said...

Could you afford the $50 to register as a part-timer? You would still be fudging, but at least you'd be officially registered. I'm thinking that as MLA offers a special membership rate the year that one moves from being a student member to being a regular member, they recognize this first year is a special case--so maybe registering as part-time faculty doesn't meet the letter of the law, but it seems to fit the spirit?

Nels said...

Society of Technical Communication costs over $500 a year to attend, and that's just registration, with on-site meals. I've seen humanities conferences, usually specialized, in the three, four, five hundred range.

I'll be there, since we're interviewing. Not sure how many sessions I'll attend, but I'm registered.

Dr. Virago said...

I'm coming to late to this, but I needed to say: *Damn* were we *all* at Philly two years ago?! How weird! And yes, I, too, had my badge checked many a time, which I remember clearly, because I tend to put it on my briefcase/bag, rather than my lapel, to save the hassle with outerwear/suit-coat switch. But this makes it harder for the guards to see it right away, so I got stopped a lot.

But more important: Flavia, if you decide to register and it's really a financial burden, I'll pay for it for you as a Christmas present from one Side Car drinking gal to another. I'm serious. Drop me an e-mail.

muse said...

Yes, Dr. Virago, we were all in Philly two years ago, and I bet we were all interviewing too.

I have no suggestions for this other than to try to get your dept. to reimburse you. I've never tried to sneak in, probably because I'm lazy, but last year when I was a postdoc I paid the grad student registration fee everywhere because it was cheaper.

I think the point about the last two days being the days most folks go badgeless is a good one. If you're only going to meet up with friends, check out the book exhibit and maybe a few panels, you could try just going to the last few days.

I am thrilled that I'm not going this year. I love Philly (lived there for 6 years and SAA was fun last year) but MLA gives me the jitters.