Omicron’s punch to groups with conferences in early 2022

University associations resuming in-person lectures in early 2022 rushed over the holidays, deciding if and how to proceed amid the explosion in COVID-19 cases.

The Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association still plan to meet in person starting Thursday, in Washington, DC and New Orleans, respectively. The Association of American Colleges and Universities will meet in person starting January 19 in Washington, as will the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities on February 6.

In contrast, the executive committee of the College Composition and Communication Conference voted to transition to a fully online conference in March instead of meeting in Chicago. The meeting of the National Council of English Teachers of the Two-Year College English Association, held at the start of the CCCC meeting, will now also be online.

Like the MLA and AHA, the American Economic Association meets each year in early January. Yet the AEA decided in August to host a virtual conference again in 2022 due to COVID-19. Peter Rousseau, secretary-treasurer of the AEA, said the rise of the Delta variant at the time posed a “threat to the public health of conference participants and created conditions materially affecting our ability to plan and to organize an event in person in complete safety “.

The recent arrival of the Omicron variant has only reinforced the decision of economists. But those groups that forge ahead with face-to-face conferences continue to cite their members’ desire to see their colleagues and friends again in person, even if it’s masked and socially distanced: there is no no hotel bars or accidental elevator encounters on Zoom, they say.

These groups also have more tangible concerns. James Grossman, executive director of the Association of Historians, for example, explained in a recent email to members: “Due to hotel contracts negotiated years in advance, the financial costs of canceling the meeting would be catastrophic. for the AHA and would negatively affect every aspect of our mission.

The AHA “will not cancel our annual meeting unless required by local or national public health authorities, which we have been told is extremely unlikely,” Grossman wrote in this email. “Many members have let us know that they are still excited to participate. In this context, the decision to attend the AHA Annual Meeting is an individual decision and not a matter of social policy. We respect and gladly facilitate any choices our colleagues consider to be in their best interests. “

No easy decisions

No association decision to meet in person or virtually in 2022 has been without controversy. Some academics trust masks and vaccines, which will be widely needed in face-to-face meetings, to protect themselves and their colleagues. Others insist that coming together during an ongoing pandemic is not worth the risk, especially when virtual conferences are already battle-tested. Yet the AHA’s particularly outspoken language on the financial implications of canceling the in-person conference has concerned some historians.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 historian and educator Julia López said this on Twitter, for example: A pandemic, without a contingency plan for cancellations / online hub is… something else.

A professor joked that the medical advice to attend the event “held your breath for 48 hours.”

Karin Wulf, Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian at the John Carter Brown Library and Professor of History at Brown University took a different view, tweeting that she had “been really struck by the number of people. noting that they had been teaching and working in much less covid-conservative environments than the conf will be, and are so eager for AHA’s “college experience.” Wulf also said she respected Grossman’s post because it “is very difficult to navigate.”

Wulf is not attending the conference herself, as she has recently moved and has ruled out travel as she and her family settle into their new home. “Honestly, I don’t know what choice I would have made if I had to attend because I have particular vulnerabilities in my family,” she however said by email. “It’s really complicated and that’s what public health experts seem to be telling us, and that’s why I appreciate the careful line that the AHA walks here, respecting that it’s complicated and that a different resolution will make sense to different people. “

Regarding safety measures, the AHA says all participants must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and wear masks in meeting spaces. The group also plans to make antigenic and molecular tests, or PCRs, available on site. Booster injections are recommended but not required.

The organizers of the CCCC conference said in an announcement about moving to a virtual format: “After more than a year and a half of living and working in a global pandemic, we looked forward to being together in March in Chicago. , Illinois. Unfortunately, despite our diligent efforts to plan and host an in-person rally, the continued developments of COVID-19 have created a situation that prevents us from having the original event as planned. This is not where we wanted to be this winter.

In discussions online about this news, some criticized the CCCC for not offering some sort of in-person option. Many other reviewers expressed disappointment, but said they believed CCCC made the safest decision for all.

Beyond immediate mitigation measures, groups going in person in early 2022 despite Omicron offer more flexibility regarding participant participation. Hosting a truly hybrid conference remains logistically out of reach for most organizations due to the cost of live-streaming the on-site panels, but the AHA said during the holidays that panelists who no longer wish to participate in person can move their sessions online. . These panels will take place at the end of February.

Grossman said Inside higher education that the overall response to the AHA’s updates on the meeting has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Our members seem to appreciate the transparency and the fact that we respect all the choices they make and do what we can to facilitate the choices.

The MP has consistently planned for a hybrid meeting in 2022, with around 20% of sessions online, depending on panelist preference, and 80% in person. Paula Krebs, the association’s director, said those proportions were now reversed, with around 80% of panels taking place online and 20% in person.

“We approach it with maximum flexibility,” Krebs said late last month. “We have hundreds of in-person sessions and hundreds online. Panelists can also postpone their sessions until 2023.

Rosemary Feal, African-Latin American research fellow at Harvard University and MLA Executive Director Emeritus, has publicly said that she has made the “difficult decision” to cancel her in-person attendance at this year’s meeting. due to Omicron. She also called on academics with safer jobs who also decided not to participate and who would not have been reimbursed by their institutions for the participation fee, to donate the money saved to MLA funds for faculty members and graduate students.

Feal says Inside higher education that she found the MP’s 2021 online conference “brilliant,” but that she would have attended in person this year, with extra safety precautions (think double masks), if she hadn’t been part of of a high-risk group for COVID-19. Regarding his appeal for donations to support academics with less secure jobs, Feal said his current university does not reimburse resident academics for professional meetings, “so I can donate the ticket fee to plane, hotel and meals “.

David Tritelli, spokesperson for AAC & U, said its annual meeting is a “hybrid event, which means people already have the option to participate online or in person. We require that all in-person participants be fully immunized, mask themselves indoors, and adhere to local health guidelines. “

He added: “We continue to monitor developments related to Omicron, of course, and will continue to be guided by the recommendations of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local public health professionals. The health and safety of all meeting participants, AAC&U and site staff, as well as our local communities remain our top priorities. “

NAICU spokesperson Pete Boyle said, “At the moment we are planning a face-to-face meeting in February.” At the same time, he said, “It’s fluid and people are anxious and have questions. We need to be flexible and be prepared for multiple eventualities.

NAICU participants are required to show proof of vaccination to register and must comply with federal and local health and safety regulations. Washington, DC, has reintroduced an indoor mask warrant until at least Jan.31, Boyle said, in an example of the types of regulations the NAICU monitors.

At the end of the day, he said, “health and safety are essential and we will not do anything to compromise them either.”

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