4S Council Meeting, 26 March 2020

In attendance: Hsin-Hsing Chen, Stephen Zehr, Amanda Windle, Wes Shrum, Paige Miller, Bryn Seabrook, Katie Ulrich, Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Joan Fujimura, Duygu Kaşdoğan, Angela Okune, Bryn Seabrook, Roopali Phadke, Noela Invernizzi, Noortje Marres, María Belén Albornoz

Meeting called to order at 7:08 AM US EST

4S Conference:

Joan updated Council on the 4S meeting in Prague.  On 1 April a decision will be made about cancelling or holding a virtual meeting.  Various platforms are under consideration for running a virtual conference.  If we move to a virtual conference, efforts will be made to obtain reimbursement for expenditures already committed for the Prague site.  Wes Shrum reported that several contracts have been signed, and we should make no assumptions about recoupment of costs at this time.

Discussion ensued about the possibility of postponing the conference until the Christmas break.  Several objections were raised about taking that course of action including work overload, delayed budget years, and uncertainty about openness of travel at that time.  Noela Invernizzi recommended that Council make a recommendation to organizers about whether to cancel or move to a virtual meeting.  Noortje Marres commented that we simply cope with the current situation as best possible rather than pushing too hard to overcome circumstances.  Marres also recommended taking advantage of the special skills of the 4S community to organize a virtual conference.  Roopali Phadke recommended that we move to a virtual conference and carefully consider registration fees.  Questions also were raised about a possible hybrid model for a conference combining some travel with virtual sessions.

Several concerns were raised about the financial implications of one choice or another and the advantages and disadvantages of delaying decisions.  Fujimura indicated that it may well be impossible to hold a physical meeting in Prague in August.  Amanda Windle asked whether 4S has conference insurance for the Prague meeting.  Fujimura reported that we purchased no insurance.  Bryn Seabrook asked what a virtual conference might look like and what would be the costs.  Fujimura provided some examples of other virtual conferences.  The typical plan is for 25 concurrent sessions.  The cost/revenue from a virtual conference would depend upon the registration fee.  Treasurer Paige Miller noted that the society owes about $220,000 in non-conference fees on an annual basis.  By April 2021 Miller predicts that the society’s budget will be about $150,000, which places the society well below its steady state and poses challenges about meeting its costs next year without a revenue-enhancing meeting in Toronto.  Fujimura indicated that raising registration and membership fees needs consideration.  Teun Zuiderent-Jerak suggested that a hybrid meeting could be small and diversified, with people meeting locally or regionally at universities hosting on an ad-hoc basis, while attending the online event.  That way the online format could be combined with strengthening local ties among STS scholars in a city or nation.  We also might get creative with the fee structure of a virtual conference.  Wes Shrum has been running some calculations and indicates that scenarios run from a loss to making some money for the society, but there is a very high level of uncertainty based within the number of registrations.

Fujimura expressed optimism that people will be enthusiastic about attending a virtual meeting. Belén Albornoz echoed that optimism.  Ana Viseu recommended that we create additional attractions to bring more people in, such as bringing in very established scholars to raise awareness and excitement about a virtual conference.  Viseu also cautioned about the need to be vigilant about lack of attendance at some sessions.  This problem might prove more challenging in a virtual meeting.  Zuiderent-Jerak recommended rethinking some of our plenaries in light of current circumstances, drawing attention to STS contributions to current COVID-19 concerns.

Fujimura recommended that we maintain the same registration fees for a virtual meeting conference as has been proposed for a physical conference.  Albornoz pointed out that some countries are freezing support for conference registration fees for conferences.  Marres suggested that the publications committee may need to consider future financial implications of the publications of the society and whether fees might be charged for publication in the journals as a revenue stream.  Fujimura noted that we have made hard copies of journals optional, which has reduced the society’s costs.  Invernizzi added that universities paying for faculty publications are largely limited to Europe.

Zuiderent-Jerak questioned about making & doing in the virtual environment and expressed concern about the effects of participants’ different time zones on a virtual meeting.  Zuiderent-Jerak suggested that a hybrid model might overcome some of these problems.

At the close of discussion, Belén Albornoz recommended that we vote on whether to cancel the meeting or hold a virtual meeting.  If the latter, 4S Council will leave open the possibility of a hybrid meeting to the local organizing committee.  The vote was 11 in favor of virtual, 0 for cancellation.  A decision about a hybrid conference will be left to the local organizing committee.

Budget Committee:

Consideration of moving the ad hoc Budget Committee to a standing committee will be tabled for the future discussion, contingent upon Charter rules for forming standing committees.

Web Committee:

Noortje Marres indicated that the new web design is ready and we should begin the change over the next few weeks.  The launch process needs to be carefully considered by the Web Committee and Council.  Questions were raised about the automatic feed of twitter into the website and whether this is a good idea.  The issue of designing a new logo also was raised.  Efforts will be made to address these issues soon.

Archiving Future Meetings Proposal:

The issue of archiving future meetings is something that we need to consider in light of the society’s finances.  Duygu Kaşdoğan recommended delaying a decision about the proposal, but to keep it on the table.  This proposal will be revised.

Future Council Meetings:

Joan Fujimura recommended a meeting every two months, but we may need one after our April meeting.  Teun Zuiderent-Jerak asked if meetings can be scheduled in a less ad-hoc manner, especially now that we know regular meetings will be held and that there are important decisions to make.  The secretary will send out a schedule for a meeting in early April and another one for late May.

The meeting was adjourned by Joan Fujimura at 8:58 AM US EST.