Excessive Conference Fees

By on June 29th, 2017 in Editorial & Opinion, Human Impacts

To the Editor: [of the IEEE Reflector]

In the beginning of June of this year I became aware that the Boston Section of the IEEE was having a conference devoted to the life, work and concerns of Norbert Wiener. The conference was to be at the Westin Hotel in Waltham. I went yesterday, June 25, 2014, and had some surprises.

When I entered the conference area I decided to register. The pleasant lady at the desk informed me that my late registration would cost me 720 dollars. I was incredulous. I told her “I’m a retired professor on a state pension, and I’m not paying.” So, off I went to the plenary session where I heard some good talks. At the end of the plenary lectures I made friends with another professor. This is Richard Weiner of Rhode Island College. Richard and I chatted and then he headed for some of the seminars. At this point he was nailed by an official running the conference; the problem was that Richard wasn’t wearing a badge because, like me, he hadn’t registered. I told this officious fellow that I hadn’t registered either, that I was a Life Senior Member of the IEEE, had done a great deal of free work for the IEEE as Book Review Editor for IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, and that I wasn’t going to cough up the 720 dollars. Because I was on my way home, it didn’t seem to matter, but Richard and I were both ordered to leave. Richard argued that he had gotten up at 5 in the morning so as to reach the conference, via public transportation, from Providence, RI. He certainly wasn’t going to produce 720 dollars for two more hours of seminars. Our inquisitor asked us “If you don’t pay to attend, how will we cover the cost of this conference? As it is, we’ll lose money.”

There are two issues here. One is the excessive cost. I can’t imagine any graduate student attending this conference on her own money. Neither would a professor who doesn’t have an expense account. Provision should be made for any interested individual who walks in off the street to attend some sessions, gratis. I come from a community of scholars and this is how we operate.

The other issue is related to the first: the location. I recently attended gatherings to honor the work of Thomas Kuhn and Leo Marx, giants in the fields of philosophy of science and American studies. They were held at M.I.T. Hundreds of people attended and the admission cost was zero. The Wiener conference should have been held at a university—there are plenty in the Boston area. The attendance I saw yesterday was light. The room for the plenary session was 2/3rds empty. The cost and the location determined this. I was surprised that my friend and I were driven away – we helped to populate the lecture room.

I’m writing this letter to create some discussion of the issues I have raised.


A. David Wunsch