Conference Cancellations Mount

American Council on Education's decision could have a ripple effect on other upcoming conferences, as the association is often looked to as a leader among higher education groups.

March 10, 2020
 
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The American Council on Education announced Monday that it has canceled its annual meeting, citing the “ongoing and growing threat posed by the novel coronavirus.” The meeting had been scheduled to take place this weekend in San Diego.

ACE’s decision could sway others to cancel their upcoming events, too. Other associations often look to ACE for guidance. They informally watch what the association does, and ACE's president coordinates the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a forum of 65 association chief executives who develop responses to important issues and challenges facing higher education.

The Secretariat’s meeting last week was “all COVID-19, all the time,” said Ted Mitchell, ACE president, in a telephone interview. Attendees shared information and ideas with other associations and reported out what they were hearing from their members and boards. Asked if he expects other higher education associations to follow ACE’s lead, Mitchell said, “Some will, some won’t.”​

ACE canceled the annual meeting after factoring in health and safety concerns and the speed at which health organizations were releasing new coronavirus guidance, Mitchell said. He was also concerned that pulling presidents and other college leaders away from their campuses amid a national health crisis was irresponsible.

It was “more important for presidents to be on their own campuses helping those communities deal with an outbreak” than to hold the meeting, Mitchell said. More than 1,500 college leaders had registered to attend. ACE is in the process of issuing refunds for all registrants. It does not plan to reschedule the face-to-face event, but some materials will be made available on the association’s website through its new professional development platform, called Engage.

"We did not want to cancel until we were sure it was warranted," Mitchell said. "We canceled as soon as we decided it was the right thing to do for our meeting."​

In recent days, the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Educational Research Association have canceled upcoming events due to the coronavirus. The SXSW Education conference said the city of Austin canceled its March dates.​ The University Professional and Continuing Education Association and the American Association of Community Colleges announced Monday afternoon they would cancel or postpone events.

The status of all events listed in this article were up to date at close of business Monday. Check with conference organizers for the latest information on specific events.

Other scheduled conferences continue to chug forward; a postcard for the upcoming Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education​, or NASPA, conference, also set to take place in Austin, Tex., arrived in the mail Monday. The Association of American Colleges and Universities ​said Monday it is planning to proceed with its conference on diversity, equity and student success at the end of the month.

“The cancellation of SXSW in the city of Austin, which is the city we’ll be in, is a major factor” in a potential cancellation decision, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA. “They have declared a local disaster and are canceling events in excess of 2,500 people, but that declaration was only for one week.”

ACE’s cancellation could also tip the scale.

“Obviously, if the college presidents' conference is canceled, that may have a big impact on the ability of staff at those colleges to attend,” Kruger said. Vice presidents, he added, are serving on response teams at their respective colleges and may not be able to leave campus.

Requests for cancellations will ultimately harm conferences that decide to proceed. ACCT decided to pull the plug on its Governance Leadership Institute after would-be attendees began to request cancellations on top of already insufficient registration numbers.

NASPA has not seen mass cancellation requests -- in fact, people are still registering to attend as of Monday. Kruger expects that to change should the conference proceed as planned.

"Everything's happening at a very fast pace right now," he said.

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