Sunday, October 07, 2007

Weekend ranting: On being 'invited'

I don't know how many of you find yourselves in the - sometimes - fortunate situation of getting invited by university departments to give presentations, or to attend conferences. I have been lucky in that regard and hope that whatever I offer is worth the hosts time and money. There's something slightly odd about how many universities work, in this context, however. So, to let you in on how they use their guests as their private banking facilities, here are two recent examples, a good one and a pretty terrible one.

Let me perhaps start with a good experience: Cheryl Cox at St George's University on Grenada invited me over for a couple of lectures and a few other things. While everything was short notice, the university was truly superbly organized. Its travel agent booked the air tickets, and nothing had to be advanced by me other than a taxifare to my local airport. Very sensibly the organization appreciated that there is something odd about a university inviting a visitor and expecting them to advance substantial amounts of money to get there.

Contrast this with Subrata Saha from SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. He invited me (from Europe at the time) to present a talk during a conference he was organizing in April this year. I was expected to purchase the ticket to get there (I did, in February 2007 ), and am still awaiting (in October 2007) the reimbursement. Indeed, both Dr Saha and the person reportedly responsible for organizing the reimbursement have stopped since replying altogether to queries as to when the reimbursement can reasonably be expected. Professional conduct of these organizers of - of all things - an ethics conference? Hardly. I mean, if there had been internal problems they could have kept me abreast of the developments to indicate that they're working on it. One wonders whether there is any intention at all to repay the credit (interest free) that their organization has taken from me...

So, I guess this is one of those let the buyer beware type situations. Each time one agrees to advance travel expenses one has to rely on the decency of those requesting the same, and hope that they will reasonably speedily reimburse what they promised to reimburse. I wonder, though, whether we academics should establish some kind of public blacklist of particularly despicable institutions so that the buyer (ie the next person invited to speak there) can make an informed choice as to whether or not he or she is likely to see his or her money back in a timely fashion. SUNY Downstate, certainly would feature prominently on my blacklist. I won't be seen there again.


  1. I also gave a paper by invitation at that conference. As unfortunate as Udo's experience was, mine was very different. However, I know money for expenses was tight, which may explain the delay. But instead of trashing Dr. Saha in his blog, Udo might have done better by picking up the phone and ringing him up.

  2. Interesting. Glad to see that 'anonymous' made a 'different' experience. My main problem actually was a lack of communication from both Dr Saha as well as other contacts I was provided with. Queries as to when I could expect to see my reimbursement remained eventually unanswered. I also know for a fact that my experience in that context was not unique. I got my reimbursement eventually, and it happened very quickly AFTER I complained to the Principal of SUNY Downstate. I do not know whether or not this was coincidental. I appreciate that cash flows during and after conferences can be tight... a word of explanation from the organizers might have helped to alleviate my frustration. I do not actually subscribe to the view that I should have picked up the phone to undertake detective work as to the reason(s) for delays Dr Saha's team was responsible for. I understand SUNY Downstate has the occasional office phone. Perhaps a call from them, including an apology and explanation would probably not have hurt.