Preliminary Report on the 2015 Annual Meeting: Response and Outcomes
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
The Society held its 126th annual meeting, on the
theme "Ecologies, Encounters, and Enactments," on October 14-17, 2015,
at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach, California. California is the home to more
AFS members than any other state, but it hasn't hosted an AFS meeting since
1990, when the meeting was held in Oakland.
The complete program book, including the schedule
and abstracts, can be found with all the other posted meeting information on
the 2015 Annual Meeting webpage, at http://www.afsnet.org/?2015AM1.
A full summary report on the meeting program and
the effect of the labor dispute will be available in the coming weeks.
Labor Dispute: Preliminary Impact and Outcomes
Thanks to the support of AFS members and meeting
participants, and of both UNITE HERE! and the Westin management, the Westin labor
dispute caused limited quantifiable damage to the meeting.
Attendance: Meeting registration was lower than in recent years with 541
registrants, but within expectations for an average AFS meeting. More than a quarter of all
attendees were students, and the percentage of international participants
continued its recent rise, accompanied by an increase in the number of new
professional and retired attendees.
Program: The number of proposals submitted was down from the beginning, 15%
less than Providence in 2013 (the last coastal meeting), but attendees were as
divided as ever among the number of panels in general sessions: with 456
individual presenters accepted in the spring, the program offered its customary
14 concurrent sessions.
there were more gaps within panels than usual, as presenters withdrew after the
program was posted. This is a problem every year, but the normal attrition rate
(withdrawals due to funding cuts, schedule conflicts, etc.) was higher than
usual (6%, compared to a more typical 4%), and that decline was doubled with
the addition of withdrawals due to the labor dispute (7% of presenters). This
total 13% attrition rate includes the withdrawal of five panels, as well as
disruption was felt since two paper panels met elsewhere, and the three Cultural
Diversity Committee-sponsored panels were rescheduled and moved off-site to avoid meeting in the hotel. The social program took a hit, too, as the
university-sponsored receptions withdrew, and plans for the Saturday dance
party were abandoned because of difficulties caused by the dispute.
Financial: Although final figures are not yet available, registration revenue was sufficient
to cover necessary charges like the hotel and audiovisual bills. AFS incurred
no penalties from the hotel, which waived its food/beverage minimums in light
of the labor dispute, and the AFS group filled our original contractual
obligation to use guest rooms. Therefore, the bottom line of this meeting is
comparable to most annual meetings, in finishing more or less at the break-even
On October 14, in cooperation with UNITE HERE!, the
AFS Executive Board agreed to send a written statement of its position to Utah
Retirement System, a chief investor in the Westin Long Beach, and Long Beach
Mayor Robert Garcia. The letters, delivered October 15, reaffirmed that AFS
will "incorporate, whenever possible, UNITE HERE!'s recommended protective
language in contracts for our annual meetings" and "give preference
to unionized hotels in our annual meeting site searches for 2018 and
beyond." The letters stated that "We also believe very strongly that hotel workers
should have the right to an environment free of all types of abuse, and the
right to a reporting process for such incidents that is free of
Representatives of UNITE HERE! and the staff of the contested Long Beach hotels, including the Westin, participated in the panel
"Cultural Diversity and Local Realities: AFS and Community
Engagement," sponsored by the AFS Cultural Diversity Committee. Early next
year the Committee will present its report and recommendations to the Board
regarding diversity and local cultural issues at AFS annual meetings.
About a dozen AFS members met with Westin General
Manager Ken Pilgrim on Saturday, October 17, to express their support of the
Westin workers' efforts to unionize.
UNITE HERE! did not picket the Westin for the run
of the conference.
Participant Survey Results
Following the annual meeting, meeting participants
were surveyed concerning their experience of the meeting, and panel chairs were
asked to report on session logistics.
We received more than 80 wide-ranging responses
from participants, most of whom gave the meeting high marks (71% rated it 8 or
higher on a scale of 10).
As is true every year, when asked to say what they
enjoyed most, participants gave equal weight at the top of the list to panels (25)
and to the social dimension (24). The other most frequently cited favorites
were plenary sessions (15), section-sponsored lectures and events (14), and the
Fellows-sponsored opportunities for students (11). Participants reported that
the location worked very well (16), and they appreciated the scheduling of free
As is also true every year, the most-cited problem
was having too many sessions to choose between (15); if participants could
change one thing, the most cited correction would be to reduce the number of
concurrent panels (6).
The next most common complaint this year was that
there were not enough programmed opportunities to meet (9); in particular,
participants would like to have a closing social event (5).
Five survey respondents also wrote that they missed
media and diamond sessions (there were 2 and 1, respectively), or that they
would like to see a wider variety of presentation formats.
A half-dozen participants named the labor dispute
as a chief problem with the meeting; however, 14 participants praised AFS
leadership for its handling of the situation, and 4 expressed approval of the
Board's decision to prefer union-approved protective language in future
A number of respondents noted that the meeting
suffered from labor dispute-related disruptions: too many cancellations (4), too many
events off-site (4), and a decline in attendance (4).
The survey of panel chairs collected information
that helped us understand perceptions -- and misperceptions -- of attendance patterns,
as well as data to test them. The comments of the 39 responding panel chairs
suggest that AFS attendees believe that very few people turn out for the
Saturday, 2:00 pm slot, or for 8:00 am sessions. As a matter of fact, though,
panel attendance was actually higher in general on Saturday than Friday, and
the Saturday 2 pm slot was better attended than any Friday time slot.
Moreover, though it can't be denied that 8:00 am
sessions reported overall lower attendance than later sessions, most 8:00 am
sessions attracted a reasonable number of audience members. Given the wide
range of audience numbers for the meeting as a whole, the average session attendance
was 22, but the most common audience size across the
board was 15. Most of the early morning sessions attracted this typical
audience. Six of the 39 reporting sessions attracted fewer than 10 audience
members, and those sessions were evenly distributed throughout all the time
slots; no time slot had more than one audience of fewer than 10 members.
Plans for the 2016 Annual Meeting
Next year's meeting will be a joint meeting with
the International Society of Folk Narrative Research, which should bring
roughly 150 more meeting attendees, mostly from Europe, and a significant
number of additional panels on narrative topics. To accommodate the growth in
the program, the meeting will add time slots by adding an additional conference
day. General sessions will begin during the day on Wednesday, October 19, with
the opening ceremonies that evening, and conclude as usual Saturday evening,
Please bear in mind that the audience will be
increased by a larger share of non-native English speakers -- have mercy, and
don't speed read your presentations! (Three survey respondents mentioned bad
presentation style or excessive speed as a problem with the meeting.)
Given the planned increase in the number of
presenters, it is unlikely that 2016 will be a year to achieve fewer concurrent
session; in fact, there will almost certainly be more than 14 given the typical
rate of submission to AFS meetings. Moreover, it isn't clear that the will of
the membership is to cut the number of concurrent sessions: in the most recent
membership survey (2011), 36% of respondents wanted the "size" of the
meeting to stay the same, and 24% wanted it to increase; only 10% wanted it to
decrease. In the next member survey, which will be conducted in 2016, we will
ask members to be more specific about what they mean by
"size": should we concentrate on the number of concurrent sessions,
or of presenters, audience members, time slots, or days of the meeting?
AFS staff and the local planning committee will give
consideration to the desire expressed in the survey for more social events; at
minimum, we will be sure to schedule a closing cash bar in the meeting hotel
after the final plenary lecture on Saturday.
The variety of presentation formats is determined
by the proposals that are submitted; we encourage you to "be the change
you wish to see," and submit alternative presentations for 2016; please
contact Lorraine Walsh Cashman at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you would like to propose something other than a standard forum, paper,
diamond or media session.
We have also been concerned
about gaps in panels due to withdrawals (see Annual Meeting Policies
on Cancellations and No Shows.) We intended to introduce a cancellation fee for
the 2015 annual meeting, but deferred that decision until 2016 in light of the
labor dispute. The new policy reads as follows:
a paper or session is submitted, it is expected that the author(s) will present at the conference if the proposal is accepted. Participation in the
conference is competitive, and a cancelled presentation eliminates a spot that
could have accommodated another scholar. As a courtesy to AFS members,
conference presenters, and attendees, AFS strongly discourages presenters from
canceling their participation in the conference after proposals have been
accepted. Those who find that they can't attend the meeting are encouraged to
find someone else to read their papers. Please notify AFS of any changes to the
program as soon as possible.
in 2016, the refund policy is as follows:
participants (chairs, presenters, discussants) may request a refund of meeting
registration fees until August 31, but a $50 cancellation fee will be retained
($25 for students and low-income participants) if they must withdraw; after that, no refunds will be
- Registrants who
are not named on the program may receive a full refund until August 31; after
that, no refunds will be issued.
penalties may be applied for presenters who withdraw after October 1.
Find all information
concerning the 2016 AFS/ISFNR Joint Annual Meeting as it unfolds at http://www.afsnet.org/?page=2016AM.