bridging the divide

The first annual UNIDO-UC Berkeley conference on technology and development is going to be held on campus here. UNIDO is the United Nations International Development Organization — not as well known as UNICEF or some others, but a biggie. I had gone to an early planning meeting for this conference but didn’t apply to be on the coordinating committee due to time constraints. But I got the email for the conference today, and the reduced rate for students is $75 for the whole conference, or $25 a day. For this you must also specify what sessions you will attend.

This is a conference being sponsored by the university. The justification for such a fee is that “otherwise students will just come for the free food.” I understand their concern, but clearly this conference is an example of preaching to the choir — those who are already active in development research will fork over the money because they hope it will help their work, and those who merely think they might be interested will be turned off by the high fees and will stay in their offices. I am certainly in the latter group. I have no confidence that the projects will in any way speak to issues in which I am interested or will give me ideas for my own projects.

My rage is a bit incoherent at the moment, but I guess I’m just angry that my university claims to be sponsoring a conference and then attempts to exclude students who may be interested in this educational opportunity on financial grounds. They have some big-name companies as donors — some of that money could be used to subsidize student registration fees. This conference does not fairly serve the pedagogical mission of the university, and it is unclear that it helps reach out to the research community. If I were being less charitable, I would say that the organizers are seeking to funnel the United Nation’s money into their own research projects or projects of their choosing. But I think I give them more credit than that. I think.

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