If you’ve never heard of COCAL, check out this piece in Adjunct Advocate, and this site, as well. In August of this year, COCAL is holding its eighth conference. I stopped by the group’s web site to have a look, and I heard the calendar of events was up. Evidently, there is no information architecture adjunct involved. It took several clicks to find the information. People hate to click around sites, my friend who is an information architect for a major university web site tells me. It’s the instant gratification of the Web that triggers the irritation. We expect information online to just pop up. At the COCAL VIII web site, you’ll get to the conference goodies, but not as directly as my friend (who knows about such things) would recommend.
The date of the conference is August 8-10, 2008. At the moment, unfortunately, it’s not possible to register online with a credit card. One wonders how part-timers, many of whom live off of their credit cards, and the ensuing float, will come up with the fee in cash. The conference fee is steep: $140 for the event and meals. Well, steep is a relative term, right? However, add transportation and housing, and a trip to COCAL will top $300-$400, easy.
Though there was not a widely-circulated call for proposals, unfortunately, there are “how-to” workshops: “Successful Organizing Campaigns,” and “Strategies for achieving job security, and “Contract Negotiations,” to name a few. There are also two plenary sessions. One is titled “State of the Profession,” and the other is titled, “Globalization & Incorporation of Higher Education.” Ok. Could be fantastic; could be a bust. There are no names on the agenda. Not only would potential attendees appreciate names, bios of the speakers would be nice so that participants could prepare by reading up on the them. Synopses of workshops and concurrent sessions would be useful, as well, so that potential participants could get a sense of what, exactly, they might expect before paying and making selections.
These are all omissions of inexperience and myopia more than anything else. Organizing events, such as the COCAL conference, is a huge undertaking and since COCAL has no centralized leadership, every time a different COCAL affiliate takes on the organization of the conference, those involved reinvent enough wheels to outfit a semi-truck, I imagine.
It’s time for COCAL to get one those television make-overs. How about establishing a standing conference committee with members from each COCAL affiliate? There are just too many free communication resources for people to be isolated anymore. Committee meetings could be by free Yahoo IM conferencing, free Yahoo video conferencing, or dirt-cheap Skype conference calling (1 cent per minute). This would go a long way toward easing (what I imagine is) a huge burden from those at individual COCALs who undertake the conference and get absolutely overwhelmed as time goes by. COCAL could rotate locations, as do most disciplinary conferences: North (including Canada), South (including Mexico), East, West, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, and then once more from the top!
Money is a concern for both organizers and attendees. I have heard rumors that some national labor unions are paying to send full-time staff to attend COCAL, but not providing funding for part-time members to go. There is a special place in hell for the leader of any education union that won’t pay for 2-3 part-time faculty members of the union, local, affiliate, clan, pride, gang, flock, herd, aerie, whatever to attend COCAL. Be that as it may, it is ultimately the responsibility of the conference organizers to tend to their own finances. Relying on the kindness of strangers got Blanche Dubois in a boatload of trouble. Relying on the kindness and largesse of education unions is sheer folly. What the union Prez giveth, the union Prez can taketh away. Then there is always the possibility that there will arise a union Prez who knew not COCAL. I think you get my drift.
COCAL affiliates should form a standing finance committee (again, with representatives from each affiliate) that would set a budget for each conference, raise money for scholarships, create opportunities for reduced fees, etc…Let us never forget that it’s maybe better for the part-timer who teaches English to write the call for proposals, and the part-timer who teaches marketing and finance to publicize the event, count the cash and come up with the budget. It’s time for COCAL to aggressively recruit people with specific skills from not only within their own affiliates but from other affiliates, as well. This means recruiting people with experience and specific skills to do specific jobs. Smart organizers will find a job for everyone who wants to help!
Finally, it’s time for COCAL to regularize and restructure COCAL conference fees. It doesn’t cost $50 in conference fees one year to go to the MLA and $150 in conference fees the next. Similarly, full-time and part-time faculty don’t pay the same fees to attend MLA, either. Thus, the AAUP staff member with the full ride from her/his employer to attend COCAL, could be charged a lot more than a part-timer from SoCal.
Have any ideas of your own? Email COCAL VIII organizers here. Post your comments at the end of my blog, and if the fates allow, think about attending COCAL VIII this year.