Yesterday, I went to the Association for Jewish Studies website in order to submit a paper proposal for the annual conference.¹ I was surprised to find that, in addition to requiring that you be up-to-date on my membership dues before proposing a paper (which is understandable), they require you to pay next year’s dues, so you will be current at the time of the conference, and make you register and pre-pay $130 for the conference, before knowing if your paper will even be accepted!
Is this common practice? I have only submitted papers for SBL/AAR and smaller colloquia in the past, and I’ve never seen such a thing. Granted, AJS will give you a refund if your paper isn’t accepted and you decide not to come, but it seems a little prohibitive, especially for those of us without a department to help foot the bill. I mean, I’m lucky enough to have a day job that leaves me with a little money after my student loans and DC-area rent, but for a full-time adjunct, $130 could be a month’s worth of ramen. Or a doctor’s visit for a sick kid. Tying that money up until a decision is made on the proposal can constitute a real burden.
Now, AJS does have a sliding-scale for membership dues, and they prorate your membership so you don’t have to pay for another full year in January if you just joined in November (I’m looking at you, American Philological Society!). But perhaps they should consider—in light of the changes in the market—either extending the student conference discount to PhDs without TT posts, or at least wait until proposals are approved before requiring payment.
There were a couple of opinion pieces on Al Jazeera a few months back by Sarah Kendzior that discussed the financial barriers to non-affiliated scholars, especially in terms of access to scholarly publications. I hadn’t thought about that too much, until I was writing my proposal this weekend. See, my day job is at a major university, so I am accustomed to having access to their library and online resources. But this weekend I realized that if I want to continue research on my own, I can’t really leave this job, unless I can find one at another university. I have limited library privileges as an alumn at UVA, but they have locked down most of the online resources.
I suppose I am spoiled for expecting to be able to do all of my research from my living room in my pyjamas, but that’s my point. The current conditions are creating a class system within academia, where those who are privileged with full-time positions have far more resources than those who do not. Now that the majority of courses are being taught by non-full-time faculty, keeping research materials out of the very people responsible for instructing students can only end badly. More to the point, I’ve already saddled myself with a Mercedes of debt in exchange for entrance into academia; how much more do I have to ante up for a seat at the table?
¹ The proposal is for a paper I’ve been meaning to do for years, comparing the pluralism of opinion found in Rabbinic discourse with that found in Greco-Roman symposia literature. My rabbinics professor from UVA will be pleased that I finally got around to it.