Confercationing is when law professors claim to be going to a conference on the law school’s dime but are really on a one to 5 day vacation. The biggest on of these for law professors takes place in early January when the Association of American Legal Schools meet. Not as big but easily a bigger boondoggle is the Southeastern Association of Law Teachers Conference which conveniently takes place in the summer in a family friendly location. Palm Beach is a favorite destination as is Orlando. Since Universities pay for transportation, meals, and lodging for faculty, the only cost to the vacationer and his or her family is transportation for the partner and kids and their meals. Pretty good deal for a week in Florida. I will say this about this meeting. There is very little hypocrisy. No one attending pretends to be doing anything other than vacationing on the school's dime.
Three things characterize these meetings. Since law professors are, by nature, climbers whenever you are talking to someone at these meetings they are always looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more important in the room they could attempt to smooze with. The second is a contest over who know the best ethic restaurant in town. So people with gather in hyped up groups decided were to go eat. The discussion invariable comes down to who know the hippest place to go that no one else has discovered. Third, at these conferences members of a panel present papers to groups ranging from 0 to 50. After the presentation people can ask questions The questions rarely indicate something the questioner wants to know but is for the questioner to impress the rest of the audience with how much they should be reckoned with. It's actually pretty easy to seem impressive because the papers are almost always duds. The papers drawn from already published articles or recycled from previous talks. The main idea is be able to put on your resume that you presented a paper at such and such a meeting.
These conferences are pretty much a waste in terms of producing anything for the money spend but there is a even bigger sham than these two main conferences. These are the manufactured conferences, Someone gets the idea to have a conference on British contract law or South American Comparative. The law school provides a grant that could be used for almost anything else that would be more useful. The conferences always take place in exotic places; not some small retreat where there is little to do but actually confer but in Rio, London, Amsterdam, Geneva, Paris, etc.
Here is an example of one of these manufactured conferences:
International Conference on Latin American Issues
Rio de Janerio
June 10, 2015
Friday June 10
8:30 AM Coffee and Pastries in the Lobby
9:30-10.30 AM Session 1. Evolution of the Peruvian Constitution, Room 23
Co Chairs: Eve St. John, Berta Hurns, Georgio Penata, Julio Peso, J.J. Fields
Coby Claster: Early Peru
Sylvia Macado: Peru After the Early Years
Paco Smith: Peru in the 1930s: Penises
Joan Streeter: Peru and Constitutional Reform
Miquel Mendoza: Consolidation
10:40 – 11:40 Session 2. Brazilian International Policy, Room 56
Lonnie Funk: Brazil and Slavery
Festus Johan: Brazil and Argentina: History and Perspectives.
Chester Bores: Brazil and Acai: The Importance of the Smoothy
Constance Vaya: Brazil in 2024
Pepe Vargus: Looking Forward
11:40 - 1:00 Lunch: Box Lunches Provided in the Lobby
[there are also two afternoon sessions, a time for a reception and then dinner at a posh restaurant]
This looks pretty good, right? Maybe even interesting. But let’s take a closer look. Notice the location. Rio! Who does not want to go to Rio. Since the airfare is the same if you stay one day or two weeks, no one in his right mind would only be going to the conference. So this has convercationing all over it.
You may also notice the number of co chairs of each session. A Chair is someone who contacts and schedules the panels. Having 5 co chairs is a sure sign of a boondoggle. Each co chair can list on his or her resume that they were a co chair without revealing that they did next to nothing and also justify the law school footing the bill. Perhaps their duties involved making one phone call to ask something else if he or she too could be a co chair.
Now look at each session. They have 5 speakers. The session is an hour long. Take some time for introductions and then some time for audience questions and the speakers are left with about 40 minutes to present their “papers.” That’s 8 minutes each. So let’s say the airfare is about $1200. Two nights at a Rio hotel is $400 and meals, say, $100 a day. Is an 8 minute talk or listening to other 8 minute talks worth $1700. Put it another way. Each session has a total of 10 people involved and there are 4 sessions for the one day conference. That comes out to 40 people at $1700 each or $108,000 for participants costs only not counting any charge for the rooms and meals. There actually may also be a fee to attend.
You will notice that there is time for audience participation. What audience? There is actually no audience other than the people who are participating on other sessions who may or may not show up for anything other than their own 8 minutes, It’s not like a show for the purpose of advancing the understanding of anything by anybody. In fact, I personally have been a panelists when there was no audience at all. But the school still paid for my confercation. Thanks, taxpayers!