Frequently asked questions about our annual meetings
Siting and scheduling RSA conferences:
Hotels, rates, and amenities:
Audio-visual and WiFi:
The program and scheduling sessions:
Several factors go into our choice of cities.
1. We try to vary the North American regions in which we meet. Every fifth year we meet in Europe. We also try to choose cities that scholars will enjoy visiting.
2. We need a major airline destination. Many RSA members travel from college towns served by regional airports; some travel from outside North America. A destination served only by a regional airport means several flight changes and adds significantly to the price of an airline ticket for many members.
3. RSA is a large annual meeting. New York in 2014 had 3,000 in attendance; Berlin in 2015 had 3,200. Only large conference hotels in major cities have the facilities we need. We have outgrown the facilities in many cities where we met in past years.
Approximate dates of annual meetings have become traditional and well-established for many learned societies. Such conferences have distributed themselves throughout the academic year, so that scholars may attend more than one according to their professional needs. To avoid conflicts with other societies, with Easter and Passover, and end-of-semester schedules, the RSA meets on a weekend in late March or early April. Sometimes only one weekend is possible.
Yes, the American Council of Learned Societies supports conference planning for its member organizations. Their fall meeting for Executive Directors devotes considerable attention to conference and annual meeting needs. ACLS maintains a discussion board as well, so that the experiences and concerns of one group can be shared and addressed by all.
To ensure the best deal for our members, we work with a conference planning service, Connections Housing, based in Atlanta. Their fee is paid by the hotels. They help us to identify host cities and hotels, and they invite the hotels to prepare bids. This process begins four to five years in advance, to guarantee the dates we need and ensure the best rates possible. A Connections staff member is on call throughout the conference itself. A number of other learned societies also use Connections for their conference planning.
Why do other societies like the AHA and MLA sometimes get better rates for the same hotel used by RSA?
Hotel rates are set when the contract is signed with the hotel, often five years in advance. Rates vary by season. AHA and MLA receive low hotel rates because they are larger conferences and they meet at a time of year when hotels sit empty otherwise.
We can't do this because we get free or steeply-discounted meeting rooms for the conference by signing a contract with the conference hotel to the effect that we will use a minimum number of sleeping rooms. If our members don’t fill that block of rooms, RSA must pay the difference directly to the hotel. Further, our a/v charges and so on are negotiated on the assumption that we will bring that much income for the hotel. We can only book a second, bargain hotel after we fill our quota at the main hotel.
Our contract always includes a clause that our members will receive the lowest rate available at conference time. Staying in the conference hotel is thus not only the most convenient choice for RSA members, it also supports RSA and the meeting itself.
When we make an agreement with a hotel, we promise to use a given number of sleeping rooms, and to spend a minimum amount for our end-of-conference reception and other catering. In return, they offer us a discounted rate on the sleeping rooms, and the use of meeting rooms for our sessions, plenary speakers, and book display.
Major hotels also offer excellent audio-visual service and support, but even though we restrict our services to projectors (and audio when needed), this service is expensive; the bill for the 2016 Boston conference will be approximately $100,000.
Some years the hotels are generous and offer us perks. But coffee, like WiFi, is a profit center for hotels. With tax, a "free" cup of coffee at some hotels can cost as much as $12. RSA provides services like coffee or WiFi whenever we can do so without raising registration fees inordinately.
Most conference hotels hire the services of a separate company to provide audio-visual services. The company's representatives set up the equipment and remain on call to troubleshoot. Their fees are based on a given number of rooms for a given number of days. If we ask for equipment in a room and use it for just one session, we still must pay for the whole day.
The standard setup is for a projector and screen or presentation-size monitor, plus the basic connecting cables. Adding computers would raise the equipment fees enormously, and we would have no guarantee that the kind of computer provided would have the software version that you need.
Most a/v companies keep a few spare converters for Macs on hand, but these pieces of equipment change over time; if you bring your own, you can be sure that it will work.
RSA has purchased a few laser pointers to bring to conferences and sign out to members who have forgotten their own. If you have suggestions of similar small items we could provide, please let us know.
Connectivity technology changes so quickly that it seldom goes into a hotel contract. Some hotels still see WiFi as a profit center; others see connectivity as an important part of creating goodwill and loyalty. In each hotel, staff at Connections Housing get the best deal for us that they can in this regard.
Why was my session scheduled at the same time as other sessions on similar topics? Can’t this be avoided?
In Boston 2016 there will be 710 sessions, held over three days, so some conflicts are inevitable. The first priority is to avoid individual conflicts: a participant cannot chair one session and present a paper at another, at the same time. The question of overlapping topics of interest is the next most important factor. Additionally, if a series of five sessions is organized, which must take place in a certain order, that limits the scheduling of other sessions around it.
The Program Committee comprises a dozen RSA members, including the RSA Executive Director, who serves as Chair. The committee has discipline-specific subcommittees to review proposed sessions and papers during July and August. Acceptances go out in August, and then all of the sessions are scheduled and the program is made available online sometime in September.
Once the conference schedule is available online, in early fall, RSA requests that participants check for errors and necessary updates, and send changes to the office. Any updates or corrections must be requested by December 1, in order for RSA staff to finalize the program and get it to the printer in January.
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