Yesterday, I received notification that my membership dues for NeMLA are about to expire. This surprised me, as I had already paid membership dues in July, when I proposed a session for the March 2016 conference.** When I paid those dues, my automated receipt noted that I was “confirmed for 46th Annual NeMLA convention.” I did not immediately notice that the email also noted that the conference was in Toronto, the previous conference location, for a conference that took place 2 months before I paid my dues.
So when I was asked to pay another round of dues, I emailed the administrative coordinator, who told me that I was not mistaken. In order to propose a session for the 2016 conference, I had to pay dues for 2015. When I suggested that it was unfair to ask me to pay dues twice in order to participate in one conference, I was told that I was mistaken. I was told that I was not paying twice, but that I was paying for two separate years. Yes, I replied, I know I am paying for two separate membership years. My point is that I had to pay for two separate membership years for one conference. In order to propose a session for the 2016 conference, I had to pay dues for the 2015 membership year. (I also suggested that perhaps the organization can charge pro-rated dues for those in this situation. Asking someone to pay a full year’s worth of dues in July of that year seems exploitative. I did not hear a reply regarding the possibility of pro-rated dues.)
I wanted to propose and chair a session for the 2016 conference. But in order to do that, I needed to a member for both the 2015 and 2016 years. Subsequent emails with the administrative coordinator and the executive director helped clarify the nature of the problem, but did not resolve it.****
Both the administrative coordinator and the executive director noted that there are other perks that come with membership, including but not limited to copies of the NeMLA Newsletter and a copy of the journal Modern Language Studies, as well as voting rights in the elections. However, because I paid for my membership in July, I had missed the chance at these perks, which means that my yearly membership dues were nothing more than a fee to propose a session. (Mind you, this was just to propose a session. I had to pay these dues before the session was accepted. I do not know if I would have been reimbursed had my panel not been accepted. Given what I have learned, I suspect not.)
In my conversation with the executive director, she noted that this issue had been brought up by some in the past, but that changes could not b made due to “administrative reasons.” Honestly, I’m getting tired of “administrative reasons” being used as a reason for why things are the way they are.^ An administration is system constructed and run by the administrators. Until someone explains to me otherwise, I see no reason why membership in academic conferences cannot run on the same calendar as that used by academic institutions.
When I noted that this seems unfair, I was told that the organization goes to great pains to keep members notified about keping current with dues. I have no doubt that this is true, but those reminders to members aren’t at all helpful for non-members, who don’t get any of those reminders. Had I known a year ago that I would want to propose a session for the conference – had the organization posted their CFP early enough – perhaps I would have been able to join earlier and been able to take advantage of the benefits of my membership, including the conference that had passed and the publications that had been sent out. Instead, what happened was that I was charged a full year’s worth of dues in order to propose a session for the conference taking place the following year, which I will have to pay dues for again in order to attend.
So, yes, I have to pay 2 years’ worth of dues to NeMLA for one conference.
When I highlighted that part of confusion comes from the confirmation email I received – and that none of this information is available on their webpage – I was told that they will make this information explicit on the website. That’s great, I suppose, but it changes nothing right now. Knowing ahead of time that I would have to pay a years’ worth of dues simply to propose a session for the following year might have made me reconsider proposing the session. Maybe that’s why this is not already explicitly noted on the webpage?
Now, this may seem a minor problem, and perhaps it is. Truth be told, I can afford to pay for my membership twice. I am a gainfully employed and tenured academic, and double-paying for my membership will not take any food from my table or cause me to miss a rent check. However, as the executive director has noted, this has come up in the past, and because they will not be making any changes, it will likely happen again. And I’m wondering what will happen when a graduate student or an adjunct is asked to pay membership dues twice in order to propose a session if they are not already members. I know that when I was a graduate student and an adjunct, I could not afford to join organizations unless I was chairing or presenting on a panel. I simply couldn’t afford it. (During those years, that money would have meant food off my table, though not rent money, at least not during the time I was living in my parents’ house.)
In the end, I’m more annoyed than angry, because I know that I can afford this. My concern is that there are a great many (and growing number of) academics who are not in my position, and nothing is being done to help them out. Sure, graduate students and adjuncts pay a lower rate for membership. But if they find themselves in this situation, they will still have to pay those membership dues twice for a single conference. (Yes, this issue will be more clearly posted on the webpage, but it won’t change the organization’s practices. We also talked about possibly discouraging non-members from proposing sessions, which does not seem like a good solution either.)
At the end of the day, I’ll pay the dues again, and I’ll attend the conference. My fellow panelists are not only good scholars, but also good people, and I look forward to the chance to spend time with them and hear about their research. I’m sure it will be worth the cost of the membership dues. I just hope it’s worth the cost of two years’ worth of membership dues.
*Have no fear. I am still using song lyrics for my titles.
**Full disclosure, I used to be a member, but some time ago let my membership lapse. Because my university would only reimburse me for conference fees if I presented,*** I could not afford to keep up my conference dues for the professional organizations I used to belong to.
***And I stopped getting any kind of reimbursement after I was tenured. However, this year, that may change, as my department seems to have more money than expected for faculty professional development.
****I’d like to note that both were quite prompt and helpful in their replies, even if they were not able to change anything for me or – as I will note below – for anyone in the future.
^She also told me that MLA functions the same way, and that when she joined the MLA mid-year and had to pay a full year’s dues, it was “unfair.” First, that other organizations run similarly is not a very good reason to run this way. But note that she also thinks that this is unfair. So if I’m understanding her correctly, this practice is unfair when it’s her membership dues, but not unfair when it’s mine? Or maybe she recognizes that it’s all unfair, but still feels the need to defend it? I was told more than once during this exchange that my dues go to pay for other things, even if I joined too late to take advantage of all of them. That said, she did offer to mail me a copy of last year’s issue of Modern Language Studies, so I guess that’s something, right?