Even with cutbacks, conferences vital

BY TESSA McLEAN | APRIL 02, 2009 7:42 AM

Networking is beneficial in any profession.

For UI faculty, journeying to academic conferences and sharing research can help boost a career as well as help recruit other professors to the university. But academic conferences nationally are seeing lower attendance, and the UI is considering cutting travel because of nationwide higher-education budget reductions.

Don Szeszycki, a UI associate vice president in the Provost’s Office, said curtailing travel — not eliminating it — is an option for the university. Travel to conferences through the school is funded through the UI General Fund as well as gifts and grants.

“I do believe that it is very important for faculty to get out there and show what faculty at the University of Iowa have done in terms of scholarship and research,” Szeszycki said. “They put out the good word about our institution, which eventually helps recruiting faculty to come to the university and helps others recognize that we are a world-class university.”

Hamid Arabnia, the chairman of the 2009 World Congress in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Applied Computing — which the UI, in part, sponsors — said officials are expecting a 5 percent drop in their May conference attendance this year.

“There is absolutely no shadow of any doubt in my mind whether there will be a negative impact on research productivity,” the University of Georgia professor wrote in an e-mail. “This is particularly true in computer science, computer engineering, and application areas, because in these fields, conference papers are valued as highly as journal papers.”

Arabnia said this year’s conference has provided more funding to cover travel costs. He said 80 students will receive aid to attend the event.

Jo Dickens, the director of the UI Center for Conferences and Institutes, said despite campuswide budget cuts, the center has actually seen an increase in the number of services the school is providing this year.

“A couple of large conferences [coming to the UI] have not reached their expected enrollment, and we have heard it is because of economic concerns,” she said. “However, we also have some conferences with booming enrollments.”

But even if conferences have lower attendance, Szeszycki said, they are essential to the UI’s reputation.

“If you shy away from [conferences], your image is going to suffer,” he said.

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