Valuing the Independent Scholar

Wednesday, 20 February 2013 16:24

A few months ago, I was asked by a kind and generous woman to be on a panel about independent scholars at a large, well-known conference. She found me through this blog and I was honoured to have been asked – it is always nice to be noticed after all. My first response was an immediate but tentative “yes.” Apparently, two different academic organizations were sponsoring this panel, so I thought that perhaps, given the topic (the challenges of being an independent scholar), this meant that there would be some kind of funding offered. I wasn’t expecting much, but I hoped that at least the conference fee would be waived.

It only took a few email exchanges to learn that not only was there no funding for me, there wasn’t even any funding available for the woman who put the panel together (which meant that she herself couldn’t go). At this point in our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of professionals “sponsor” a panel to learn about the barriers and challenges of independent scholars and then neglect to provide any sort of financial support? Learning that I would have to fully pay my own way to attend the conference in order to share my experiences, there was no way I could justify the expense of the trip. I still wanted to be part of this opportunity to discuss independent scholarship however, so I proposed the possibility of presenting a paper via Skype.

Emails were sent. Higher ups were lobbied. And yes, delivering a paper via Skype was an option …but I would still have to pay the conference fees! At this point in time, I was beyond annoyed. I was being asked to present on my experience as an independent scholar over Skype--a free service--and I still had to pay them for the honour. My frustration with the elitism and pay-to-play culture of academia was at an all time high. The attitude that I encountered from these conference organizers was that I should be grateful that they were going to let me speak in the first place. I decided that I would never attend this conference (as there really is no benefit for me to be there) and thanked the woman who had contacted me. I sincerely appreciated her effort in trying to make my participation on this panel happen, and we both agreed that, if nothing else, at least we were able to make a meaningful connection with one another.

As an independent scholar, I have no interest in paying to tell salaried and funded academics about my experiences creating an intellectual life outside of the university system. So to anyone in academia reading this, here’s the deal: if you want to hear from independent scholars at a conference, give them money. Any amount will do, really, as we are writing and researching on our own, without university resources. We independent scholars clearly have a passion for sharing our knowledge and expertise, but it is insulting to be invited to speak about our challenges and then be expected to financially perform as if we have tenure-enabled travel funds. Greater value needs to be attached to our efforts and contributions to scholarship, especially when those inside of the academy invite us to return and share with them our unique struggles and successes.


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