Friday, January 27, 2012

Unrolling the National Academic Conference Quality Standards Project for 2013...

Dear Colleagues,

As you all know, we have made great strides over the past ten to fifteen years in the standardization and Taylorization of higher education. More and more of our teaching staff is made up of low-paid adjuncts whose courses we can subject to greater and greater regimentation. In the online world this has been particularly successful, as we can not only determine which readings they assign and how they structure their class and make them fill their syllabi up with 10 pages of legalisms, we can control how they organize every single aspect of the class and even control and evaluate their teaching with checklists made up of easily quantifiable, low-inference quality control markers for ABC (Auditing By Chimp). What is more, we have even turned online graduate education into a a standardized enterprise, with standard course titles with committee or chair determined reading lists and where interchangeable, title-bearing but otherwise disinterested "PhDwaps" (PhDs with a pulse) can lend their degrees to our institutions' prestige while doing our customer-service-centered bidding and earning less than short order cooks. As we watch those shiny new MAs and PhDs roll off the assembly line and into administration jobs, we can be proud of the progress made so far.

But there are still challenges ahead in our never-ending battle to sap the joy and creativity out of higher education. While keeping adjuncts in poverty is important for controlling them, there are still areas in the academy where not only tenured professors, but adjuncts and yes, even graduate students can pretty much do what they want. I'm talking about conferences. Yes, there has been some progress. More and more of our member associations require specific formats for panels. That is a good start. But so much more can be done! If we want to make sure that...

  • everyone is on the same page in terms of what the current "turns" and standards are,
  • that nobody is being made to do research that is harder than what others are doing,
  • that discourse about research is substantive and relevant
  • that evaluation of research is fair according to a standardized catalog of rational measures
  • and most importantly, that those attending the conferences are getting a guaranteed level of quality and a transparent and predictable level of rigor and intellectual investment for their registration fees and allow all attendees to pick their conferences and conference schedules according to their own personal needs,

....we'll have to do more than that. The Academic Control and Assessment Board, made up of high-ranking quality control leaders from America's most prestigious institutions, is proud to announce the National Academic Conference Quality Standards Project. The following measures will be taken in order to bring academic conferences into lockstep with the rest of higher education culture:

  • Each conference must have a clearly defined topic. This topic will be included in the title of the conference. The topic's designation must include clear and specific references to subject groups, ideas, geographic areas and time periods. The Conference Reference Guide to be published this spring will explain the acceptable operators and terminology in detail. Thus, a conference on "Folk Traditions in the Americas" will no longer imply an ambiguous, vague notion of "folk" or of "the Americas." The Reference Guide will explain which continents and islands are eligible for inclusion as the subject of papers under a designation such as "the Americas." The committee that is writing the guide will clarify, for example, whether Greenland is part of North America or whether music that is still being performed today is a general "tradition" or whether it must be considered a "living tradition." We can't have people flying in from all over without a clear idea of what they will learn at a conference.
  • The clearly-stated topic cannot be deceptively nuanced in the body of the conference description by statements such as, "Papers on subjects outside this year's theme will be considered..." If presenters are not going to give the attendees the topic they came and paid to hear, they should find another conference.
  • Each conference topic, panel and paper must be relevant. The Academic Control and Assessment Board will decide based on economic potential, national security, societal self esteem, attendee satisfaction as reported from similar conferences in the past and the conference's estimated American Knowledge Synergy And Potential Growth Assessment Catalog score. Topics discussed at other recent conferences are not to be considered relevant, since those issues have already been covered. For topic repetition or redundancy, we recommend a waiting period for new research developments of 100 years for theology conferences, fifteen years for humanities conferences, five years for social science conferences and six days for natural science conferences.
  • In order to insure continuous scientific progress and avoid waste, under no circumstances are issues which have been decided to be considered relevant for purposes of academic conferences.
  • Conferences which seek to introduce new research "turns" must apply to have their turns approved at least six months in advance. Turn applications must include a factual description of the turn, a list of articles and books in which the turn is already in evidence or to which the turn could be fruitfully applied, and a list of researchers willing to be involved in promoting the turn. Panels may use already established turns, if they are still deemed relevant, but may only introduce new turns within the context of a conference-wide turn. Audience members cannot be expected to have to think in unexpected ways about a subject while they are still learning about the facts of a subject.
  • Unless specifically advertised as speculative and theoretical, all conference topics, panels and papers will deal exclusively with facts.
  • Conference registration will cost $80 in boring cities and $130 in interesting cities. All attendees will be given a $10 registration fee discount for filling out a standardized evaluation form.
  • Each session at the conference will be 90 minutes in length and must be in panel form. Panels consist of six members, at least two of whom must be female and all of whom must be paying members of the association hosting the conference. Members include a moderator, who opens the session and introduces the presenters, three presenters, who speak for 20 minutes each, a discussant, who reacts substantively to the three papers in a single, ten-minute contribution, and an observer.
  • Panel members will speak in the following order: After the moderator introduces the speakers, each of the speakers presents his or her paper. After the third paper, the discussant speaks. Then the moderator may allow members of the audience to ask questions. The moderator insures that each speaker is given no fewer than one and no more than three questions. Responses to audience questions will be substantive, at least 45 seconds in length, and will address all the key points raised by the questioner. If the respondent wants to introduce new topics or information in his or her response, he or she may ask the moderator's permission to go off on a tangent. The observer does not speak unless he or she deems it necessary as a matter national security or to veto audience or respondent tangents to insure conference relevance. He or she submits a protocol of the session together with the standard Conference Panel Assessment Checklist.
  • All papers are required to use some form of visual media. Papers which do not are to be marked as "potentially boring" in the conference program.
  • The Academic Control and Assessment Board is working on a standard formula for converting these rules to poster sessions.
  • All research presented at a particular conference must be of comparable rigor. Each conference will announce a Rationalized Rigor Rating to which all panels and papers will conform. Rating categories will be based on measures of how difficult research is (how many months of research, travel and languages required, laboratory equipment, extent of the already established knowledge foundation preceding the research, etc.), categorized levels of abstraction (University of Minnesota Meta Meter Measurement score), and set parameters for how creative and revolutionary the ideas presented are (American Knowledge Synergy And Potential Growth Assessment Catalog score). This standardization assures that conferences and panels have comparable rigor so that people attending a particular conference or panel are not unpleasantly surprised or unduly challenged in a manner they did not expect or may not be accustomed to.
I look forward to working with each of you as we unfold this new and exciting program. By 2013, the program will be in place, so be sure to plan any conferences held after December of this year with these guidelines in mind.

Finally, the Academic Control and Assessment Board is proud to announce that we have hired Becky as project coordinator. She'll be down in the trenches dealing with the details of implementation. If you have any questions or concerns about the plan, she and her staff will be at your beck and call.

Best wishes for a great start in 2012!


Dr. A. S.
Director of Assessment Services and Standardization
Department of Education and Neuro-Robotics


  1. Shhhhh! Didn't you know that standardization and assessment are like the Academic Rule 34? If you can think of it, there's a standardization and assessment tool for it. SO SHHHHHHHH!

  2. I know it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but some of the proposed standards are good ideas.

    Requiring topics to be relevant and non-redundant would be nice. I've seen I-don't-know-how-many presentations on how wonderful these newfangled things called "wikis" are, and I walked out on Peter Elbow while he expounded on the idea that students should read their material aloud before turning it in, a piece of advice that had been taken for granted decades, if not centuries ago.

    Cheaper registration would be welcome. As it stands, the only way I can afford to attend conferences is if I get school money because I'm presenting. If registration were cheaper, I'd attend a few more conferences just to see what people are presenting.

    Visual media required, otherwise you get tagged with a "potentially boring" marker in the program? Hellz, yeah. Rule #1 for any presenter: DO NOT BORE YOUR AUDIENCE. Watching you stand behind a lectern and read a paper is like drinking liquefied Valium, only without the neat-o floaty sensation. DO NOT WANT.

  3. Really good. It only lacks a catchy acronym.

  4. I've been able to hold twits like this at bay so far, because they're no smart enough to understand physics. When they try, it quickly makes their brain hurt, and they disengage.

  5. This is genius, and sounds like what's already on the website of a certain national-level conference.

  6. I see you have already read the guidelines for my discipline's annual conference ...

  7. @ Beaker - Yes, I thought about holding back the post for a few days while I contemplate an acronym that spells something funny. But I was too impatient. Also, I notice some of the real acronyms, indeed many of them, are in fact very dry and boring. I have a sense that there is less effort now to make a word out of every idea.

    I apologize if this has given any bad ideas to any assessment chimps who might actually be in a position to implement them soon. Science fiction not only predicts, but sometimes perhaps even shapes the future.

    By the way, I'm looking for a conference on 18th century Crimean dog breeding at a rigor level of 5.0-6.5 and a synergy potential of 3.0-4.0. I've got a paper on Tatar and Jewish hunting dog markets for a panel on ethnicity and trade in case anyone else is looking. My current draft is raw data and doesn't use any turns, but I could easily use space, religion or gender if that suits conference guidelines. I won't do linguistics, however, since all linguistic angles on this subject were decided in at the 2003 Fargo conference on African and European Canine Speech Economies.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.