APA Responds to Campaign to Move Some of Its Meetings Online

Members of the leadership of the American Philosophical Association (APA) have responded to the “2+1” campaign by the Philosophers for Sustainability to move at least one of the APA’s three divisional meetings permanently online.

In an announcement posted at the APA’s website, Dominic McIver Lopes (Chair of the APA Board of Officers), Richard Bett (Vice Chair of the APA Board of Officers and Chair of the APA Committee on Divisional Coordination), Amy Ferrer (Executive Director of the APA), Rebecca Copenhaver (Secretary-Treasurer of the APA Pacific Division), Jeff Dunn (Secretary-Treasurer of the APA Eastern Division), and Elyse Purcell (Secretary-Treasurer of the APA Central Division) note that while they appeciate and share the campaign’s “interest in and commitment to environmental sustainability and accessibility, and to the flourishing of philosophy, philosophers, and the APA,” it will be several years before any changes could be implemented:

The APA has existing contracts for in-person divisional meetings. These contracts, which must be honored, extend into 2025, so the proposed 2+1 model could not be implemented any earlier than that.

This is a good thing, they write:

This fact is to the benefit of the campaign. The divisional meetings are complex and require extensive planning, and the fundamental change that would be required to implement the proposed 2+1 model will require significant research, consultation, discussion, and preparation. Having these meeting contracts already in place means we have the appropriate lead time necessary to undertake that deliberative process.

For now, the APA will look into the desirability and feasibility of the proposed changes:

We anticipate that the Committee on Divisional Coordination will outline various models for APA meetings; gather information about APA member and meeting attendee preferences for those models; and research the models’ feasibility, costs and benefits (financial and otherwise), bylaws changes that would be necessary, and other issues that the board and divisional executive committees will need to understand in order to determine how to plan for meetings going forward. We expect that the Committee on Divisional Coordination will report to the board and divisional executive committees in the first half of 2022.

In the meanwhile, they note that the APA Virtual Programming Committee has been increasing the APA’s online offerings, including the recently launched  APA Live virtual event series and the APA On Demand collection.

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for the climate
2 years ago

This is a splendid idea, I hope the APA moves forward with it. They would do well to consult with the American Society for Aesthetics, which ran some fun social events online alongside the conference. Also, the SPP used gather town for their poster sessions and I found that worked well. Finally, psych conferences have been figuring out ways to make networking at online conferences less horrible as well, riffing on speed dating. It seems like a real chance to help improve both the climate at conferences and take action on climate change.

Ronald Gripweister
2 years ago

Should I be appalled by or understanding of the fact that the APA has been making apparently unbreakable and very expensive contracts with future hotels until 2025?

Last edited 2 years ago by Ronald Gripweister
Matt L
Reply to  Ronald Gripweister
2 years ago

You certainly shouldn’t be appalled unless you have a clear understanding of the alternatives, the costs of them, and how they fit into the finances of an organization like the APA. If you do have a clear understanding of that, you probably wouldn’t need to ask the question here, but if you don’t have it, at the least you should suspend judgment. (From past discussions – here and elsewhere – of the logistics of hosting very large [by philosophy standards] conferences, it’s clear that most philosophers know very little about them, and don’t let that stop them from having strong opinions, but isn’t a very enlightening path.)

(I might add, the contracts are not “unbreakable”, surely, but normal in the sense that, if you sign a contract, and then don’t perform, you almost always have to pay damages. It’s possible that there are “liquidated damages” clauses in the contract – essentially a guarantee payment whether performance happens or not – though I’ve not seen them and don’t know for sure. Why would you include something like that? It would probably be bargained for to get a better over-all deal. And, there are pluses and minuses to locking in contracts several years in advance. Pluses include predictable costs, probably better costs over-all, being more likely to get the locations and dates you want, etc. Draw-backs include unexpected occurrences like the current one sometimes coming up. Did the relevant APA people do a good job weighing these factors? I have no idea, not having seen the contracts, the negotiations, and the alternatives, but I do know that people who haven’t seen those things, or at least having lots of experience with similar negotiations, should, at most, withhold judgment.)

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt L
Mark van Roojen
Reply to  Matt L
2 years ago

FWIW, to partly support Matt L’s point, part of not being forced to pay large fees for backing out of contracts as the pandemic hit last year was to make deals to hold events at the same places on future dates in subsequent years. It was in fact a very scary meeting where we had to decide whether to cancel the Pacific APA when this was still controversial (SFO had not cancelled conferences at hotels and not all board members thought things would get bad so fast) and we could have been liable for well over a hundred thousand dollars to do so. We did it and the secretary treasurer of the Pacific, Rebecca Copenhaver, along with Amy Ferrar managed to pull negotiations with the hotel chains off, partly because these chains had multi-year contracts with the APA across the divisions. The same multi-event contracts came in handy in renegotiations by the other divisions and their secretary-treasurers.

There is in fact a lot of money involved in putting on a meeting relative to the total budget and assets of each of the divisions, and given that members don’t want to pay more than they need to, and other folks only join up when it is personally beneficial (they’re on a program or whatever) there are a number of needs, desires and institutional requirements that put constraints on what a small professional organizations can do.

Also related to the overall topic, the APA board was already thinking about ways to do more on line and less in person before the generally laudable campaign to urge the organization to move more things online was well-publicized. (I know that when I hit send I will find typos or other mistakes in this message but so it goes.)

Matt L
Reply to  Mark van Roojen
2 years ago

Thanks for this information, Mark. It’s interesting and useful, and certainly increases my credence in favor of not being appalled at the contracts in this case.

Reply to  Mark van Roojen
2 years ago

Thanks for this, Mark.

As one of the organizers of the campaign, I should say that we knew both that some APA officers were already thinking along these lines, and that the logistical/financial challenges of shifting meetings online were considerable.

We’re really happy about the APA’s quick and positive response, and will be glad to help however we can moving forward.

Reply to  Ronald Gripweister
2 years ago

This is standard practice in running large events.

Philosopher & Enviornmental Scientist
2 years ago

Here just to briefly note that moving things online is not always the best solution for reducing one’s carbon footprint. Energy consumption tied with internet use and data storage can have a pretty significant carbon footprint too:


Not saying that this is not a move to take seriously, but this should be taken into account in a cost-benefit analysis.

Eric Godoy
Eric Godoy

Thanks for the link, P&ES. Philosophers for Sustainability (PfS) has been collecting studies like this.

By and large, those we’ve seen still show virtual conferencing coming out ahead even when taking into account the carbon costs of video streaming, some estimate by a factor of 100. I know there have been a few studies linked in comment threads about this topic here and there, but here is a summary and link to one published *this year*. It’s a more conservative estimate compared to some I’ve seen, but still estimates that in-person events produce 66% more emissions just through flights (not hotel or ground transportation costs). https://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2021/02/virtual-conferences-have-a-low-climate-impact-but-not-zero/.

The impact of virtual conferencing can be reduced *even further*, for example, if participating subscribe to renewable energy or reduce their video quality.

2 years ago

Moving conferences permanently online would make me immensely sad. It might sound bizarre to many people, but for me there is no greater feeling of joy than being physically at a big academic conference, meeting new people and reuniting with old friends and colleagues, talking about ideas, making new connections. In person conferences are a core part of what makes academia feel like a calling to me and I’m not sure it would be an exaggeration to say they’re kind of what I live for – certainly they’re what I write for. Maybe this is weird but it just happens to be what’s important to me.

Online conferences give me less than none of the positive experience I get from in person conferences. They are stressful without being invigorating.

I have chosen not to have children, eat meat or diary products, drive an ICE car, live in a large energy inefficient home or maintain a yard and I travel in the lowest impact ways I can. I feel like, by western standards, I have an environmentally conscious small ecological and climate footprint even if I fly two or three times a year relatively short distances. I don’t want to shame anyone for making higher impact choices than I do in those areas, but I sincerely hope that others wont put a permanent end to what I most look forward to.