I used my right not to be on strike to protect a conference I have been co-organising for the last 18 months from the disaster that the university strike programmed for 16 and 17 brought in. I agree that the situation in the Catalan universities is terrible but I don’t believe that strikes are an effective weapon of protest and, anyway, we just could not cancel a conference just a few weeks before its beginning. Besides, only a handful of the participants came from the Catalan universities where the protest was being staged and they were practically on the way. We simply stayed away from our UAB campus, feeling a little clandestine much to my chagrin.
Finding an alternative place was nerve-racking. We did manage by a series of small miracles and the conference was, in the end, quite normal, which is exactly what we aimed at. Someone praised me for my professionalism as programme coordinator and that left me thinking hard about what we do and why. In this case, my main co-organiser and myself had decided to undertake the huge task of organising the event out of a sense of duty, as we had attended many other conferences in the same series and simply wished to reciprocate. I have felt since the beginning totally amateurish, since organising a conference with around 280 people is not something I have been trained for in my academic life. I don’t know to this day whether there’s a kit to organise conferences available somewhere on the internet but I have had to build my own by trial and error. I am pleased it has worked well for most delegates but I have been horrified most of the time by the many things that could go wrong and by the many poor choices I personally may have been responsible for.
So why do we do it? In short, because we’re poor. With more money I would have very gladly left the organising in the hands of conference professionals. And I don’t mean in this particular case or for this particular series. I mean that generally university teachers and Departments are expected, as a matter of fact, to be able to organise conferences. Many academics invest plenty of time on them with all the generosity we can afford considering our other many duties. This is done because the conference circuit must obviously exist for networking and for the circulation of ideas. Yet, whenever my day has started with tens of email messages to purveyors or guests, I have wondered what silly notion made me think I could handle all this.
My belated thanks, then, to all the organisers of all the conferences I have attended in the past and my heartfelt admiration for all those who’ll volunteer to organise the ones I’ll attend in the future.