Last week a colleague and I participated in a regional conference of a large academic association. On the conference’s first day, my colleague attended a panel for which four of the six presenters named in the program did not show up. In the room were the other two presenters, the panel’s chair/discussant, and an audience of three people.
The next day, at the panel session in which my colleague and I were jointly presenting, again four of the six panelists were no shows. The room was populated by, in addition to the two of us, the other presenter, the panel’s chair/discussant, and an audience of five.
I’ve seen the same pattern at two regional conferences for my colleague’s main disciplinary organization — sessions that consist of a few people listening to themselves talk to a mostly empty room, with little to no actual dissemination of knowledge. The process is a charade — people list conference papers on their curriculum vitae, regardless of whether the papers or the people who promised to write them ever materialize. The money used to pay conference registration fees in effect goes straight from colleges and universities to the academic associations that sponsor the conferences.
I suspect that at some point in the near future cash-strapped non-elite colleges and universities are simply going to stop subsidizing these kinds of events via faculty reimbursement. Email and digital repositories are frequently much more cost effective methods of sharing information.