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.)
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:
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.
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 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!
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 Jones 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?”
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.
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, 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):
Filed under: scholarship, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged: annual meeting, cost, data projectors, digital, disincentive, fees, james mcgrath, jim west, presentation, sbl, scott bailey, society of biblical literature, surcharge, tax, tax collectors, tax the poor, usury | 14 Comments »