September 19, 2011

Comments needed on new AAR schedule

by Quincy Newell

Greetings, fellow Religion in the American West-ers! (RAWers?)  Robert Puckett, our contact at the AAR, recently sent a newsletter out to the AAR Program Unit Chairs with lots of information about the AAR and its upcoming meeting.  (San Francisco!  Yay!)  There was one note that caught my eye.  It’s a bit long, but please read through and continue on to my comment at the end:

New Annual Meeting Session Schedule
The Program Committee has strongly recommended (and the Board of Directors has supported) a motion that beginning in 2012, the AAR shift its sessions into 100-minute time slots with 20-minute breaks, with a final 90-minute session each day following the schedule below on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday:

8:30 am-10:10 am
10:30 am-12:10 pm
12:10 pm-1:30 pm (Plenary Sessions and lunch)
1:30 pm-3:10 pm
3:30 pm-5:10 pm
5:30 pm-7:00 pm

On Tuesday, the schedule would be:

8:00 am-9:40 am
10:00 am-11:40 am

The committee made this recommendation for a number of reasons:

  • The general feeling that Annual Meeting sessions are too long and that the program has become stagnated by the 4 papers (plus a respondent) model. The committee wishes to encourage sessions that are not just presenters reading their papers. This is not effective communication. We wouldn’t read a lecture to our students, so why do we subject our colleagues to this? The committee encourages alternative presentation styles, and the dedication of most session time to question and answer and discussion.

  • We are one of only six ACLS organizations to hold 2.5 hour sessions. Among these 71 associations, the median time is 105 minutes, the average is 106 minutes, and the most common length is 90 minutes.

  • The 90-minute sessions on Sunday afternoon have been successful in concentrating focus and encouraging more discussion amongst participants and the audience.

  • The dramatic growth of the field in the last decade has overburdened our resources, and we wish to expand the opportunity for growth and not to stifle it. Increasing from 11 time slots to 17 time slots gives the Program Committee more flexibility to increase the number of sessions assigned to any given Program Unit, and to add new units when it feels they are needed. Sessions will be allocated during the regular review process for all program units. Given the substantial increase in proposals (almost 4,000 this year) and the fact that we have the lowest acceptance rate in the ACLS (29%), being able to grow our program is of great importance.

  • Concerns about adequate space for our sessions, given an average of 35.5 sessions per time slot for AAR and upwards of 40 sessions per time slot for SBL.

  • Concerns about thematic conflicts within session time slots. Moving to this model reduces the average number of sessions per time slot from 35.5 to 23.

We understand that starting earlier, ending later, and having a slightly shorter lunch period and breaks between sessions may present a slight burden on some of our attendees. With this in mind, we rejected proposed models that started at 8:00 am, others that ran as late as 7:45 pm, and others that left only an hour for lunch. We are dedicated to making sure that our Annual Meeting venues provide for convenient access to food and beverages in order to alleviate these concerns to the best of our ability.

In addition, some may be concerned over getting between sessions in a 20-minute window. One result of this schedule change is that we will no longer be able to effectively share meeting space with SBL, assuming they keep their 2.5-hour session model (though we will still be in the same city at the same time, share the exhibit hall, employment center, hotels, etc). Thus, we will be able to concentrate AAR meeting space within one or two adjacent properties in order to facilitate quick travel between meeting locations (fewer sessions per time slot aids in this process as well). As we did this year, my counterpart at SBL, Charlie Haws, and I will work together to ensure that there are no participant conflicts across the program. 

Okay, I’m back.  I’m a little concerned about how this schedule will affect our seminar and other seminars.  We only get one session per year, but it’s a 2.5-hour session.  In that time, we have our discussion of precirculated papers (with a brief overview of those papers by their authors for those who didn’t get the chance to read them, and a response by another scholar to get the discussion ball rolling) and our business meeting, for which we usually budget 15-20 minutes.  In the past, we have not always used our full time, but we frequently have.  What do you think?  Do you have suggestions?  Please send me your thoughts on this proposed new schedule and how it affects seminars at qdnewell [at] uwyo [dot] edu.  I’ll compile everyone’s comments and pass them along to Robert Puckett.

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