thoughts on the sbl’s pay-per-projector policy

SBL Data Projector with Coin Slot

2010 SBL Data Projector (Mashup of Sony projector by Robert R. Cargill)

Is the SBL also among the tax collectors?

The Society of Biblical Literature has instituted a new policy at the 2010 annual meeting in Atlanta that charges presenters $25-$75 for the use of a data projector during a presentation. You heard me correctly, that’s $25-75 per presenter, per presentation, depending upon whether or not the presenter pre-paid by September 17.

Please allow me to express my profound displeasure with this decision in my own unique way.

Now, this fee is no surprise. The SBL actually unveiled this new revenue-producing scheme before the call for papers, and it was included in the online proposal form. You may remember this gem on the SBL website:

This year a nominal fee ($25 per item prior to June 15th) will be charged for each piece of Audio/Visual equipment requested. This will assist the SBL in covering a portion of the A/V costs for your session. Please request only the A/V equipment essential to your presentation to help us keep the meeting affordable for all members. Upon your paper’s acceptance, you will receive additional information on how to confirm equipment and pay for your A/V needs.

Most scholars either didn’t pay attention; read it, but didn’t bother to do or say anything about it (as scholars are oft wont to do); ignored it and planned on simply not paying when the bill came; or figured they’d do what faculty always do: complain about a new (albeit ridiculous) policy a week before crunch time rather than proactively write in dissent or objection to the policy in the early stages.

As the chair of the Blogger and Online Publication section (whose presenters, as one might expect, might actually employ the use of technology during their presentations), I was aghast at the notion that I needed to pay extra to give a presentation, when other presenters and attendees, who also benefit from other technologies like electricity, microphones, speakers, podiums, chairs, etc., were required to pay nothing. I chose not to pay the fee, and instead arranged to bring my own digital projector, extension cord, cables, etc., which I do every year. (Jim West has offered to do the same.)

SBL Data Projector Meter

SBL Data Projector Meter (Mashup of A.K.M. Adam's photo by Robert R. Cargill.) (Original Adam photo here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35034349172@N01/86083)

This is what it has come to: the SBL is taxing those who create visually compelling presentations to accompany their papers.

Perhaps the new SBL email confirmation can read as follows:

“Congratulations!
Your paper has been accepted in the Johannine Literature section. Please send us $25 additional if you plan on actually creating a visually compelling presentation to accompany your paper.
If you’re just going to stand there and read a boring paper, well then, that’s free.
Again, congratulations.

P.S. Send money. We’re broke.”

The SBL is attempting to exact a tax on digital projectors. At some level a strategic decision was made to surcharge presenters, perhaps because they knew that most people attending SBL would be receiving some sort of reimbursement from their employer (whether university, bookseller, or non-profit organization), and would simply pass this expense along to their employers. (Airlines get away with charging extra for bags because most major carriers know that the bulk of their business comes from business travelers on expense accounts.) We know SBL has been collecting reimbursement data. (Remember filling out the question during registration that asked if you would be receiving 100%, some, or no reimbursement from an employer?) A decision was made to tax presenters above and beyond the already high conference registration fees, SBL annual membership, hotel costs, and additional skyrocketing hotel taxes (check your hotel bill before you hand it to your office manager for reimbursement)!

However, the SBL may be at fault on more than one level. I am hoping it is not the case that the SBL signed a deal with hotels that it either knew was bad (because it did not include data projectors), but needed to sign quickly for one reason or another. Worse yet, I hope it is not the case that negligence played a role and SBL simply overlooked the fact that data projectors were not included, signed a deal, and then got caught off guard when it realized it would be hit with the surprise charges, and scrambled to recoup some of the additional expense.

Scott Bailey has pointed out the absurdity of the SBL hotel’s claims regarding the costs of data projectors. Most data projectors can be purchased outright for less than $450 these days, (click here for a selection of digital projector options), yet the SBL hotel is charging SBL $450 per day(!!) to rent its data projectors. AND THE SBL AGREED TO THESE TERMS!!! It appears that SBL either signed a bad deal without doing its due diligence regarding the actual cost of data projectors, or simply missed the fact that projectors were not included. Given that the SBL is headquartered in Atlanta, one would think that they would know their local hotels and could negotiate a decent deal.

A $25-75 surcharge for what are usually 25-minute presentations comes to $1-3/minute! For standard technology!

The SBL should immediately rescind its policy of charging presenters $25-75 per presentation for using a data projector.

SBL and Projectors

$450/Day. (Photo by James McGrath)

SBL should not begin charging presenters for projectors. Data projectors have become a staple of all good presentations. I can’t wait to see presenters reading papers without PowerPoints simply to protest the policy. A more likely solution is that given the compact nature of today’s projectors, most scholars will bring their own projectors along with their laptops, as we are doing for the Blogger and Online Publication session. (Thank you James McGrath!)

This policy especially hurts younger scholars and graduate students, the very demographic SBL is attempting to reach and the group SBL must reach to ensure its long-term viability! SBL annual meetings are already very (almost prohibitively) expensive, especially for graduate students, who do not have secured positions at universities to whom they can submit reimbursements, and who are the most likely to use technology to present papers in an effort to procure jobs. Because the “data projector tax” hurts young scholars, the SBL is essentially taxing the poorest of the poor (because after all, we’re all in the humanities), and exacting a tax on those who are least able to afford it.

If SBL is going to fine anyone, it should charge presenters who do not use data projectors. If you wrote your SBL “talk” on the back of a napkin in the bar just before your session, you should have to pay $75 in order to present – money that can be distributed to those of us who have to listen to you drone on about hiphil middle-weak verb forms without any form of visual aid whatsoever. Don’t punish those presenters who have spent the time to write a good paper and create a helpful accompanying presentation.

The SBL should not disincentivize the production of effective, visual presentations at its own annual meeting!

Jesus Cleanses the SBL Registration Booth

An angry Jesus, upset about the fact that SBL is charging presenters to use data projectors, cleanses the SBL registration booth. (Mashup of Carl Heinrich Bloch painting by Robert R. Cargill) More on Bloch here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Heinrich_Bloch

Nickel-and-diming the attendees gives the SBL a real black eye at a time of nation-wide economic cost-cutting at universities, and when the SBL is attempting to market to a new range of scholars. Higher education really can’t afford the additional cost burden right now, especially if the revenues raised from the data projector tax are simply being passed along to hotels.

I’m seriously waiting for Jesus (Christ, not Hernandez in hotel facilities) to show up and “cleanse” the SBL registration booth. I’d like to see him overturn a table full of data projectors or two.

I can hear it now: as soon as a projector goes dark, someone will say,

“Will you put another quarter in the data projector meter for me?”

Church Collection Plate

Attendees of the SBL Luke-Acts session take up an offering to pay the data projector tax.

Seriously, we should take up an offering for use of the data projectors. A section with 5 papers would cost $125, and that’s if you pre-reserved them back in June! We could pass a plate down the rows.

Solution

The SBL should immediately announce that it is rescinding its data projector fees for this year’s annual meeting.

Itemizing the data projector costs as an additional surcharge only highlights the fiscal trouble of the SBL.

Placing the fiscal burden directly on those scholars who are doing and presenting higher-end research that requires modern forms of technology to communicate their findings disincentivizes innovation.

Nickel-and-diming its own participants for participating makes an otherwise professional organization look cheap and does not send an inspiring message of fiscal viability to SBL members.

It would be better to spread the cost of data-projectors evenly across all participants, whether they use them in presentations, or watch presentations that use projectors. This minimal cost (say, $5) could be added to the already absurd annual meeting registration cost. It would be less burdensome to the presenters, and would not advertise SBL’s financial woes by highlighting the need to exact a surcharge for a service that is now standard in higher education and professional conferences.

Rescinding the decision to impose fees on those using data projectors would buy the SBL a year to debate the role of technology in scholarship, properly assess the real costs of technology, and give SBL a year to communicate the need, if any, for higher fees to subsidize technology costs.

SBL could also agree not to do business with hotels who insist on exacting absurd usury fees on conferences. It’s SBL’s home town for crying aloud! SBL should be able to negotiate a fair deal.

In Sum

In sum, charging presenters a fee to present their papers in a modern format is a very poor decision on the part of SBL. Then again, a digital image is worth a thousand words (and I’ll let you see it for free):

SBL Pay-for-Projector Policy

SBL Pay-for-Projector Policy (Mashup by Robert R. Cargill)

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14 Responses

  1. Nice. Well-reasoned and humorous. The Jesus turning over the projectors photo was OUTSTANDING!

  2. Skimmed over this… unfortunately it’s not unique. The AV services at UCLA will charge student groups $200 for a single use of the projectors that are already installed in the classrooms! It’s absolutely absurd!

  3. tim, thanx. it was fun making them. will you be at sbl?

  4. Excellent, my sentiments, exactly Robert. It boils down to a modernist depreciation of visual art combined with a desperation for profit at the expense of struggling scholars.

  5. Oh wow, this is great. I have not laughed this hard in a long while. Not only is it witty it is also incisive. Many thanks! I look forward to meeting you at the Sunday evening dinner.

    John

  6. Thanks for doing this. The mash-ups are FANTASTIC and they illustrate the message of this post on two levels. Imagine if you were talking about this topic in Atlanta and didn’t have the possibility of projecting the images.

    Did you notice the Google Ad at the bottom? A PICO projector for $119. I wouldn’t vouch for that particular model or brand, but the ad that Google chose to connect with this post just ad(d)s to the irony…

  7. as always- loads of fun. now, go take the survey!

  8. [...] the upcoming SBL national meeting. The most interesting discussions revolve around the $25-75 cost of using a digital projector, the usefulness of handouts, and the apparent lack of wifi in the convention center. To my mind [...]

  9. Don’t worry, AAR’s got your back next year (you only pay cost. ;) )

    http://www.aarweb.org/meetings/annual_meeting/Current_Meeting/AV.asp

  10. [...] epicenter of biblioblogging, with vituperative posts soon following from Robert Cargill (Excavator), Scott Bailey (Scotteriology), James McGrath (Exploring Out Matrix), Roland Boer (Stalin’s [...]

  11. [...] a LOT of discussion about how much< s> the fact that SBL charged for projectors at the conference, some of it very humorous. In another post I commented that we really are focusing our blame on the wrong folks regarding the [...]

  12. [...] mean, why should the sbl stop at projector fines? if they’re really looking to raise some money, sbl should consider taking a page out of [...]

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