Shadow NCA


National Convention        
Founded 2004

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The National Convention Association Manifesto

(Shadow NCA)


No amount of rationalizing can negate this simple fact: the costs associated with attending a National Conference like the annual convention for the National Communication Association (NCA) does economic violence to the people who need it most and can afford it least.

The NCA conference is incredibly valuable to those seeking to improve their pedagogy, to obtain academic appointments, to advance a research agenda, or to learn from other scholars in the field. In fact, attendance at the NCA conference is nearly mandatory for young scholars seeking to establish themselves as researchers or to find university teaching jobs (tenure-track or less). Many preliminary interviews are conducted at NCA. Participation in panels at NCA is essential for scholars seeking to establish a record of scholarship. Shadow NCA wishes to work for the betterment of NCA (and similar academic associations) through engaged critique. The point of this manifesto is ultimately to support these associations and their conventions, not to decry them.

The costs of attending this conference are extremely high. The NCA wisely makes conference registration cost quite low for students, but other associated costs (such as travel, food, and lodging) are prohibitively high for folks living on borrowed money. At the 2004 NCA convention in Chicago, the cost of a hotel room at the convention hotel(s) ranged from $159 - $344 per night (prior to taxes and fees). Many students will spend the equivalent of a month's rent or more to lodge for three nights at the convention hotels. Food costs are similarly high in the convention hotels. Add the cost of a plane ticket and ground transportation, and many student find themselves in the position of having to choose between essential professional development and paying for essentials like food and rent. Many choose to finance these costs on credit cards, further compounding the ultimate costs of attending the NCA at 18 percent per annum.

Another growing group of conference attendees do not even receive the benefit of reduced registration costs. The number of adjunct and non-tenure track faculty (instructors, lecturers, etc) grows within our discipline and others every year, yet the NCA has made no account of the unique financial pressures that these folks are exposed to. These attendees frequently comprise the bulk of those seeking tenure-track employment, and as such, are expected to have a growing research agenda and a record of involvement in the discipline. To move from an adjunct position to a tenure-track position nearly requires national conference attendance, but there is no attempt by the NCA to ameliorate the unique financial pressures on this group.

Even tenured and tenure-track scholars are increasingly coming to grips with the fact that professional development funds are one of the first items to be eliminated in times of tight budgets. Even strong unions are willing to part with professional development funds in contract negotiations if the choice is between maintaining health insurance and losing conference expense accounts. More and more tenured faculty are finding that the direct costs of conference attendance are hitting their pocketbooks. Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue, rather than reverse itself.

Despite this perfect storm of decreased institutional support, increased attendance by economically disadvantaged scholars, and increased costs of attendance, the NCA has been blithely indifferent to these concerns. The sites for the last three NCA conferences have created a tremendous strain on the budgets of all attendees. While Miami Beach is a wonderful place for a vacation, it is an unnecessarily expensive location for an academic conference. While panels can be comfortably held in convention hotel ballrooms, they can just as comfortably be held in college and university classrooms. While plush venues may make us feel like royalty, they impoverish those among us who are trying to make a start into the profession.

Every year, we are told that we need to limit the number of panels because of a lack of room availability. The people who are most likely to find their panel proposals on the cutting room floor are the graduate students and new scholars who need the exposure, networking and experience of presenting at the NCA conference the most. Just as the discipline needs the voices of experienced and established scholars, it also needs to cultivate new voices and inexperienced scholars. We cannot afford to make conference presentation the purview of those who already have achieved tenure--it will damage the "health of the discipline" (which happens to be the 2005 NCA convention theme). We need more panels, not less.

These are not new concerns. On the contrary, these concerns have been voiced many times before, only to be rebuffed by those that believe that the way we do conferences now is the only way to proceed. However, it is true that no concrete alternatives to the status quo have been devised and presented in a comprehensive manner. Shadow NCA and the National Convention Association will change that.

This project holds that the people of the NCA conference are capable of exercising creative leadership to envision just, humane and intellectually stimulating alternatives to the current conference.

First, we will spotlight the economic violence done on the most vulnerable members of our scholarly community by the present practice of the NCA conference. We intend to do so by collecting survey research data that quantifies the costs imposed by our present conference on participants, compiling it, and presenting it to the governing bodies of the NCA. We will also engage in performance actions that spotlight and breathe life into the abstract numbers that we will collect.

Second, we will provide another platform for scholarship that has been excluded from the conference for lack of space, or any other reason. We will solicit proposals for such scholarship, match it with similar ideas and provide donated space to panels that wish to go on, despite being rejected by other NCA divisions. We will run a fully transparent and democratic process to allow anyone who wishes to present to do so.

Third, we will serve those who need economic relief by acting as a clearinghouse for ride and room sharing arrangements, cooperative food distribution and linking those in need with whatever resources people are willing to donate.

Fourth, we will solicit roundtable discussions on the nature of the NCA conference and alternatives that would be more just and humane. We invite every person with opinions and ideas to join us is in compiling a document to be presented to the governing bodies of the NCA that outlines our concerns about accessibility and provides a number of concrete and specific alternatives that could be adopted.