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News & Press: AAALetter

From the President

Thursday, April 27, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim McNamara
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I’m writing this message on a glorious sunny autumn (sic) day in Sorrento, a beautiful seaside town south of Melbourne, Australia. The fact that for the first time in its history the President of the Association is based outside North America reflects the international character and reach of our organization: about one-third of our members are based outside the United States. I’m not the first Australian to be President; the very first President, Wilga Rivers, was Australian, though at the time she had a chair at Harvard. It is an honour and a privilege to be in this role for the coming year.

It’s the Easter break here, welcome after the excitement (and exhaustion) of the AAAL conference in Portland. The conference maintained the attendance figures of recent years, although with a record number of registrations. There were somewhat more no-shows this year than in the past, resulting in a final on-site attendance of 1568. The plenary speakers and several of the colloquia presentations addressed or reflected the theme of Transdisciplinarity; three of the plenary speakers were from disciplines outside applied linguistics (philosophy, rhetoric and robotic engineering) and each made strong links to work in our field. The invited AILA@AAAL colloquium focused on the theme of transdisciplinarity specifically. A number of other colloquia were jointly sponsored with different associations, including LSA, AAA, TESOL and ILTA. Diversity and equity were strong themes of the conference: there were invited colloquia on refugee and asylum seeker issues in a variety of national contexts, on sexuality, and on indigenous language education; three colloquia focused all or in part on deafness and sign language issues; and other colloquia explored marginality, immigrant youth education and the environmental crisis, among many other socially relevant themes.

The conference was held under the shadow of the Presidential Executive Order on Travel, which meant that 6 people who had had proposals accepted were unable to get the required visas: four of these were PhD students in other countries (students from Yemen and Iran in New Zealand, from Libya in the UK, and from Iran in Canada). The Order triggered an international campaign for a boycott of academic conferences in the US. The Executive of the Association responded by issuing a statement affirming its opposition to the order and asserting the right of all members of the profession to be free to present their research to their professional colleagues. The Standing Rules, which require presenters to present in person, were amended to allow the individuals affected by the Order to give pre-recorded presentations, or in the case of a poster presenter, to have a colleague present the poster. Conference attendees were encouraged to show their support by attend the sessions affected by the ban. Terry Wiley, the outgoing President of CAL, was invited to convene a special colloquium at lunchtime on the first day of the conference (so that it did not conflict with any other academic sessions) on the impact of exclusionary discourses and the professional responsibility of applied linguists in the changed international political circumstances. In addition, on the second day of the conference, a lunchtime meeting of the newly created Public Affairs and Engagement Committee (PAEC) was held to provide further opportunities for collective action. The Association is grateful to Terry and to the speakers in his panel, and to Netta Avineri, the Chair of PAEC, for their role in allowing conference delegates to discuss the issues raised by the Executive Order and other related developments.

Affirming the right of our international members to be able to present at our conference will be a priority in the lead-up to the 2018 conference in Chicago. Other aspects of the international character of the Association will be a focus: for example, how the Graduate Student Council might serve the interests of graduate students who are not based in the US. The Executive Committee has recently come to the end of a five-year strategic planning cycle, and we will evaluate what has been achieved, and the need for and potential timing of a further planning cycle. The Association’s conferences are a victim of their own success. We received a record number of proposals this year, almost 2000, and given that for the next three years we are locked into contracts with hotels with about the same amount of space for presentations as in previous conferences, the pressure on acceptances will grow even greater. We need to think of strategic ways in which this pressure may be relieved. For example, the shared shorter paper format, trialled this year, proved successful, and allows for three papers to be presented in a time slot in which only two normal papers would be presented. We also need to consider the challenges and opportunities that technology presents in the delivery of conferences.

AAAL is a wonderful, collegial association, and I look forward to working with the other members of the Executive and with members more generally to strengthen and extend its creative reach and its support for excellent research in our field.

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